GLENDALE AZ - JANUARY 22: Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Phoenix Coyotes reacts during a time out from the NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Jobing.com Arena on January 22 2011 in Glendale Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Flyers made a surprising move last week in acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov's rights from the Phoenix Coyotes and now have a little over two weeks to sign him before the free agency period starts.
First off, allow myself to introduce... well, myself. I've been writing my own sports blog since the beginning of December and was just recently offered the opportunity to contribute to SB Nation. I grew up right outside Philadelphia, went to college in Maryland, and now live and work in Washington, D.C. Alright, that's good for now, let's get down to business.
Yeah, I know I'm a little late to the party for weighing in on the Bryzgalov trade, but I've been otherwise preoccupied. Anyway, suffice to say I didn't see this coming, although given Ed Snider's stunningly candid interview with Neil Hartman last month, maybe I should have. As Flyers fans know, acquiring impending free agents before they hit the market is one of Paul Holmgren's modi operandi -- along with trading away every Flyers' draft pick through 2025. Speaking of which, there goes a 2012 third round pick and whatever the compensation draft choice (watch it be a future first rounder -- Edit: Whew, it's not) will be once -- if? -- the Flyers sign Bryzgalov to a multi-year deal. Here's where things really get interesting. Bryzgalov and his agent, Rich Winter, are going to surely demand a yearly salary north of $5 million, and for months the rumblings have been that they want to secure a contract similar to that of the very best goalies in the game. If you believe that, Bryzgalov won't settle for less than $6 million per season. Also, at nearly 31 years of age, he should be looking for a deal that essentially covers the rest of his career. So, at the minimum, you have to think he's going to want five years. If the Flyers are going to make this happen, a significant roster shakeup is in order. Ville Leino's tenure in Philadelphia is over, and I'm thinking Matt Carle is also gone. One more salary will need to be dumped as well (Kris Versteeg?) in order to create some breathing room under the cap. I'm not a fan of Jeff Carter -- mainly because I question his desire to be the best player he can be and have tired of him shrinking on the biggest stage -- and would be more than open to trading him for a sweet return. However, Holmgren seems to be steadfastly in love with the guy and gave him a career contract seven months ago. Then again, the rumor mongers of the Interwebs are trumpeting Carter as perhaps the most likely cap casualty so the Flyers can afford Bryzgalov. The possible destination getting the most traction? Columbus, for Jakub Voracek (star potential, in my opinion, and perhaps in need of a change of scenery) and the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft. I'd do that; if nothing else, it's a good starting point for a possible trade, and maybe Homer can get another player or prospect, too (Edit: Come to think of it, Columbus would definitely have to add something else to the trade). All of a sudden, this is shaping up to be a wild offseason for a team that was in the Stanley Cup Finals one calendar year ago.
Honestly, I don't see a scenario where Bryzgalov doesn't hit payday in a big way. This is his one chance to cash in on a lucrative deal, and he'd be foolish not to squeeze every penny out of it; if the Flyers don't show him the money, he'll test the market. Bryz won't sign for anything less than five years and $25 million, you can be sure of that. In fact, I'd be totally ecstatic with such a contract because I'm thinking he wants something like seven years and at least $40 million. Let's also not discount the possibility that Holmgren attempts to circumvent the spirit of the cap Chris Pronger-style and offers Bryzgalov something like 12 years and $50-$60 million (the NHL would likely get pissed off and veto such a deal anyway). Now, whether or not I think it's a good idea to shell out that kind of money over that many years is irrelevant because I'm just some pissant fan with a computer and blogging platform. But if my opinion is for some reason relevant to you, I'm not in favor of such a move. I have nothing against Bryzgalov, I just don't think he's the right fit for this team as it's presently constructed. However, if his contract demands are more in line with what the Flyers want, then I'd be all for signing him. I just don't want to give Bryz some crazy long-term deal that makes him among the league's three highest-paid goalies. If that's what he's aiming for, I'd rather go for Tomas Vokoun and sign him to a two- or three-year deal as a stopgap until Sergei Bobrovsky is ready to take over full-time. Speaking of Bob, just a month ago we were led to believe that he was the future in net for the Flyers. Well, now what? With Bryz in the mix, Bob's probably looking at being a backup until he's at least 27. If that's the case, the Flyers might as well leverage his future potential and trade him for more immediate help. Even if Bryz is signed to a long-term deal, I hope the Flyers hang onto Bob both because of his promising talents and the fact that he's such a likable dude. Besides, he's still probably another two years away from being ready to assume the role of a number one goaltender.
For those of you who want to prance around in fantasy land and point out that Bryzgalov being a fellow Russian could be a boon for Bob's development, I present you with this article from Tim Panaccio that was published nearly a month ago. If you lend credence to anything he writes -- and, hey, for all of Timmeh's shortcomings as a reporter, he was on the Bryzgalov train before anyone else -- then the fact that Bryz supposedly isn't the kind of guy you want mentoring a young goalie isn't exactly the most encouraging news if you're a Bob fan. Hopefully Bryz's supposed aversion to helping a fellow goalie and countryman has been overblown because it would be a damn shame if he's a dick like that. After all, with the kind of contract he'll be getting, it's pretty obvious the Flyers are prepared to commit to him as the team's undisputed number one goalie. If Bryz is that insecure and can't get over himself, even with the assurance of a long-term contract, then I don't want him here at all. That would be such a punk bitch way of approaching things on his part.
Bryzgalov's talent isn't in question -- he's been the backbone of overachieving Coyotes teams the past two seasons and would be a phenomenal addition for the Flyers. That said, he's an, um, interesting character. Although Bryz is known as an affable jokester and is by all accounts well-liked by his teammates, I wonder how he'll handle the the pressure of playing in Philadelphia after so many years in lesser markets (I know, I know, the same can be said about Vokoun). This ain't exactly Anaheim or Phoenix when it comes to the expectations and passion surrounding the hockey team. That is to say, we give a shit. Lots of shits, actually. Bryzgalov and Winter arrived in Philadelphia today (Thursday) and will meet face-to-face with the Flyers' brass for the first time. We'll see what, if any, progress is made on ironing out a contract agreement. For now, I'm chomping at the bit and can't wait to see how things unfold.