Why you heff to score goal?

At this point, the only reason that the Philadelphia Flyers can continue to play Ilya Bryzgalov is simply from what they are paying him—they don’t want to see their $51M goalie go to waste at the end of the bench in favour of some undrafted, 23-year old Russian scrub.

But the Flyers continue to bleed losses as Bryzgalov racks up the starts. Since he took over the starting gig in Philadelphia again from Sergei Bobrovsky, the philosophical Bryzgalov, clad in vintage pads originally scheduled to be featured during the Winter Classic, has recorded three quality starts out of seven attempts, with the team going 4-2-1 in the process thanks to some strong offense.

Whatever happened in Boston on Sunday is beyond Bryzgalov’s blame, but anytime you’re looking enough to throw a five-spot on Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins is a game that you should win. While the wins and losses have come for Bryzgalov this season (his record is 18-10-4) there isn’t a long list of goaltenders that he has made more saves than: Bryzgalov’s name isn’t until the last page on the NHL.com leader-board in save percentage (.895 – tied for 63rd) and he only just made the second page in even-strength save percentage (.905 – 60th).

Sergei Bobrovsky has bested Bryzgalov so far in every measurable goaltending category. Whatever his crime was that forced Paul Holmgren to go out and open up the chequebook for the quirky Bryz, he certainly never deserved this sort of sentencing. After all, there isn’t a terrifically large list of rookie goaltenders who played 50 games, and Bob’s numbers were somewhat comparable to Henrik Lundqvist’s (although, also Steve Mason’s, which could scare anybody away).

I wrote back when the Flyers traded for Bryzgalov’s rights, that the move may not pay off in Philly:

To get the same value as Bobrovsky last season of approximately $178,000 per win (8th among starting goalies), Bryzgalov would have to be paid at $2,675,000, which is not likely.

So while the Flyers have supposedly had a question mark in goal since Ron Hextall, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that they can’t win with what they have. Bobrovsky proved himself this season to be capable if anything, even if his playoff record doesn’t speak for that. There’s no reason he can’t be this team’s goalie going forward, particularly since his save percentage was just two points lower than Bryzgalov’s.

The major reason the Flyers decided to go after a goalie was obviously their own perception of their goaltending talent reflected public perception: the team has been without a goalie since Hextall. (Bryzgalov at least replicated one facet of Hextall’s game on Sunday)

A season after getting terrific goaltending for cheap, the Flyers signed a 31-year old to a 9-year deal to tend goal.

But the big-money goaltender, however successful, is no longer a key to a team’s success. A good goalie in the short-term can now be found pumping gas for the AHL affiliate’s bus, if he’s put in the right situation. And Philly have a good team. It’s not like last season they had every element but goaltending, with their starter putting up Dwayne Roloson-esque numbers every night. They had the 9th best team goaltending at even strength last season, earning saves from Bobrovsky (.923), Boucher (.925) and even Michael Leighton (.929) in a goalie-by-committee approach.

Of the ten goalies with the top cap hits among goalies, just six are in playoff position as of Sunday night (counting Cristobal Huet’s Fribourg, who are in 2nd place in the Swiss National League A). The best goaltenders in the world right now, Tim Thomas may as well have come to Boston selling insurance with how easily the Bruins signed him post-lockout. Henrik Lundqvist was drafted in the 7th round of the 2000 draft where the more highly-regarded Rick DiPietro and Brent Krahn were taken in the first round. Mike Smith and Brian Elliott, instrumental to their teams’ successes this season, were only signed by their respective teams because they asked really nicely.

Good goaltending is fleeting and random, and usually unrepeatable. Signing goaltenders to long-term, high-salary contracts or drafting them high is a move that likely won’t succeed. This is a lesson the Flyers ought to have learned when they reached the Stanley Cup Final backstopped by Michael Leighton, who saved just over 12 shots in Carolina over a three-year period before throwing up a .916 en-route to an Eastern Conference Championship.

Of course, none of Ilya Bryzgalov being overpaid should factor into how good or bad of a goaltender he is, but 1/18th through a 9-year contract isn’t the best time for Holmgren to see that he may have made a mistake here. If it wasn’t apparent with Bobrovsky’s .930 even strength save percentage this season, perhaps it was when Milan Lucic scored on a long floater on Sunday, or perhaps when Bryzgalov completely lost sight of the puck behind the net leading to the go-ahead goal.

There’s no need for a witch-hunt, here, but this is just one of many oft-discussed transactions in the off-season that just hasn’t worked out. What makes it particularly frustrating is how economical the same team’s goaltending was just a season before. They are now paying good cash for the 7th worst goaltending in the entire NHL.

Comments (10)

  1. I’m still trying to figure out how Bryz was in net for that entire game after throwing a punch with his blocker to the back of a Bruin’s helmet. As I recall, striking an opponent with the blocking glove is considered a match penalty. The refs should have run him at that point.

    • Unfortunately though, there are certain penalties that just aren’t called. Which I don’t get. Why have it in the rule book if there is not intention of calling it?

      Another issue: Does it drive anyone else nuts when the ref by the play doesn’t call a penalty, but the one 60 feet away does? I hate that. If it’s really penalty-worthy, you’d think the ref 5 feet from the action would have called it.

  2. Remember when this site said Bryzgalov was proving a lot of people right?

    I guess you could say “It’s a bit of an “I told you so” moment”, Justin.

  3. Yes bryz hasn’t been great I know. Give me a brake with this BOB stuff he has exactly three wins against winning teams. It a lot easier to but up decent numbers against blow average teams.

    • Ah, so we should just throw out his excellent rookie season because he has three wins against winning teams this year. Got it.

  4. Great article, Cam. I was actually playing with the numbers on hockey-reference a week or so ago and noticed the same thing re: Bobrovsky and Lundqvist. Sure, there were some undesirables on that list, but not as many who played a similar number of games as Bob and Lundqvist. Bob also had good numbers in the KHL and sustained such play after coming over to the NHL playing more games than he ever had before. The writing was on the wall that the Flyers quite possibly had their goaltending solution staring them in the face which is why myself and anyone else with a clue realized how horrible the trades to blow up a team for a goaltender were (most likely orchestrated by team owner Ed Snider), especially when the solution was very likely already cheap and in-house.

    One more random comment: Leighton only played 1 game last season before he was sent back to the minors, so the whole goaltending-by-committee thing was really only between Bob (who got a little better than a 3/2 ratio of starts) and Boucher. Laviolette also really mismanaged that situation as Boucher was a more-than-capable backup to spell Bobrovsky, but instead he decided to run him into the ground early in the season. He also made the mistake of giving Michael Leighton actual playoff game time which lasted about 2 periods iirc. Bob got a pretty raw deal during last year’s playoffs and afterward, but it’s good that he’s still showing the same promise of last year. I have a feeling it might come in handy after a few Bryzgalov playoff flops.

  5. By his own admission, Bob stated over last summer that he was physically fatigued toward the end last season and the playoffs. Bob was not given the opportunity to sharpen his game in the AHL and adjust to the demanding schedule as most goalies do. In my opinion, that was the Flyers first mistake. To expect a rookie KHL goalie (who had never played in the NHL and never played more than 30 games or so) to lead the Flyers to the Cup was unrealistic. Bob was and still is a work in progress. While spending that sort of money on Bryz was shortsighted, not making Bob our #1 right now was not.

    • Right, but if Laviolette had managed him properly by giving Boucher an extra 15 starts or so, a lot of that could probably have been avoided. If the team would have learned from its mistake and signed a Jose Theodore type to split time with Bob this season, the same mistake could have been avoided and the results would most likely have been similar if not improved. Instead, there’s a 9-year/$51 million albatross who could end up riding the pine.

      • I agree but rather than a Theodore, I was convinced at the time that Vokoun was the perfect fit for the Flyers. Unfortunately the Boss wanted a #1 big money goalie locked into a long term contract. I don’t regret losing Carter and Richards however because one or both would have been gone whether we signed a Vokoun or a Bryz.

  6. Honestly, I think the best thing about signing Bryz was the trades of Carter(who by the way was a major steal) and richards.I think we have a very solid core of young players who will only get better with years.The scary thing is what we could have done if it wasnt for that 5.6 mil a year contract on the salary cap.The Flyers should give Bryz all the chances in the world to prove them right for this year and maybe next but if by then he doesnt show signs of improvement….Id be willing to buy him out and here is what it would look like for us if we’d be buying him out in 2013.

    Ilya Bryzgalov buyout from CapGeek.com
    ◦ 2013-14: -$690,476
    ◦ 2014-15: $1,309,524
    ◦ 2015-16: $1,309,524
    ◦ 2016-17: $1,809,524
    ◦ 2017-18: $1,809,524
    ◦ 2018-19: $5,059,524
    ◦ 2019-20: $6,059,524
    ◦ 2020-21: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2021-22: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2022-23: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2023-24: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2024-25: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2025-26: $1,642,857
    ◦ 2026-27: $1,642,857

    that is the salary that he’d command on the salary cap even if he’s not in the team anymore.

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