Late Tuesday, the Philadelphia Flyers announced that the team acquired the rights to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in a trade that sent left winger Matt Clackson, a third round draft pick in 2012, and a conditional draft choice to the Phoenix Coyotes. Assuming the Flyers are able to sign a deal, the trade provides the team with a goaltender who can carry it deep into the playoffs. Over the past ten years, the goaltender position for the Philadelphia Flyers has been a revolving door as the team has searched for a definitive number one. Brian Boucher, Sean Burke, Roman Cechmanek, and Robert Esche, just to name a few, all failed to bring the city the elusive Stanley Cup. After the display in net this postseason, the fans begged for the organization to go after a top tier goalie and that is exactly what it did. The addition of Ilya Bryzgalov provides the team with a goalie who is primed to be a dominant starter in a city that desperately wants to see the Stanley Cup return to Philadelphia.
Ilya Bryzgalov, 30, was the starting goalie for the Phoenix Coyotes since he was acquired off waivers in the 2007-2008 season. The year before, Bryzgalov was a member of the 2007 Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks, along with current Flyers defensemen Chris Pronger and Sean O’Donnell, and he appeared in five playoff games. Over nine years in the league, he has posted a 156-116-35 record with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. During the regular season, he posted a 36-20-10 record with 2.48 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Most impressively, he posted seven shutouts, to bring his career total to 23. Combined, all the Flyers goaltenders had zero shutouts during the regular season, and only five in the previous season.
Ilya Bryzgalov is a top ten goaltender in the NHL, and took the Phoenix Coyotes from the bottom of the Western Conference to the middle of the playoff picture. In Phoenix, Bryzgalov played with a solid team that utilized a great system, but it was short of talented goal scorers. The leading goal scorer, Captain Shane Doan, had only 20 goals during the regular season. Due to the inability of the offense to put up spectacular numbers, Bryzgalov was forced to keep the team in the game. He knew he could only let in two, or at most three, goals in order to give his team a chance to win. Therefore, he had a great deal of pressure on him every game. The main reason Bryzgalov will continue to have success with the Philadelphia Flyers is that he will not have that pressure on him every game. While he will need to be solid in net, the Flyers have an abundant number of players who can score. Counting winger Kris Versteeg, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs before the trade deadline, the Flyers had seven players who scored over 20 goals during the regular season. If Bryzgalov can play as well as he has so far in his career, the Flyers persistent forwards will take care of the rest. More importantly, if the Flyers defense can remain healthy, it will prevent the opposing forwards from getting great scoring chances, and provide Bryzgalov with the opportunity to win many games.
Some have questioned the play of Bryzgalov in the postseason, who has posted a disappointing 12-13 record as a starter in the playoffs. In the 2010 playoffs, his goals-against average was over three and, in this postseason, it was over four. Each year, his team has failed to advance past the first round. While his inability to win in the postseason is a fair concern, I think a major part of it was the pressure placed on Bryzgalov due to the inability of the offense to score. In each series, the team was outmatched while facing a veteran team in the Detroit Red Wings, which shut down the mediocre offense of the Coyotes. In Philadelphia, he will not have the pressure of being the one to carry the team. If the team plays up to its capability, he will simply have to be a consistent contributor in net. This postseason, neither Flyers goaltender could come up with the big save, or even a save, at the right moment. Ilya Bryzgalov will be able to make the saves he is supposed to make as well as come up with the big saves the team will need to stay in a game, and ultimately, a playoff series.
Therefore, the only thing left to d0 is make a deal. Since Bryzgalov was the best available goaltender in free agency, he will want big money. In order for the Flyers to free up space to remain under the salary cap, a high profile forward may have to be dealt. Two names that have come up in trade talks are Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter. While Hartnell is a physical player who can post up in front of the net, he also takes dumb penalties and, for some reason, seems to be in the net more than the puck. Jeff Carter, with his size, speed, and deadly wrist shot would be the more appealing player to other teams. While the team would be losing its 2010-2011 regular season leading goal scorer, I think the Flyers can afford to trade Carter. The main reason is the emergence of James Van Riemsdyk, who broke out in the playoffs, leading the team in shots and often having the best scoring opportunities. By continuing this stellar play next season, James Van Riemsdyk will be able to put plenty of pucks in the net.
With the acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Philadelphia Flyers answered the goaltending quesiton that has haunted the team for many years. Furthermore, the team should still be able to hold on to Sergei Bobrovsky, who can continue to develop as a back-up goaltender, and be an assest to the team. The Flyers have been able to go deep in the playoffs without a definite number one goaltender, coming within two games of winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. With a team that will have many of the players from that run in 2010, and the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Philadelphia Flyers will be a legitamate contender for the Stanley Cup in the upcoming season.