Goalie Search 2011 – Ilya Bryzgalov

The Chairman has spoken, the goalie carousel has come to an end!

With Ed Snider’s announcement that the goaltending problem has to be fixed this offseason, it’s time to begin looking ahead to just what goaltender the Flyers brass will bring in to slam the door on the age-old question: when will the Flyers finally invest in a quality goaltender?

Because of this, I have decided to take the possible goaltenders the Flyers may pursue, be it via free agency or trade. Every day I will analyze a new goaltender in an attempt to determine the best fit for the Philadelphia Flyers. And so, without further ado…

Continuing our series of exploring former goaltenders from California to step into the blue paint next season, we come to Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The 30-year-old was drafted by what used to be the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the second round of the 2000 Entry Draft but, with the exception of sporadic appearances with the big club, spent much of his time with their AHL affiliate in Cincinnati (which no longer exists).

Bryzgalov broke into the NHL in 2005-06, playing 31 games in place of injured starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere. While Giguere came back for the playoffs his performances were less than stellar, leading Bryzgalov to snatch the starting job away for Game 6 of the Mighty Ducks’ first-round series against defending Western Conference champion Calgary. The Disneyites, in their last season before being rebranded simply as the “Ducks,” were eventually eliminated by Edmonton in the Conference Finals but Bryzgalov had great playoff numbers to show for it, posting a .944 SV%, 1.46 GAA, and 3 shutouts in 11 games. He also tied the rookie record for most consecutive playoff shutouts with 3.

Bryzgalov’s final season in Anaheim was the Ducks’ 2006-07 Stanley Cup winning year. He played 27 games as Giguere’s backup and made 5 playoff appearances, including 4 starts while Giguere attended to personal issues.

He posted great numbers in his playoff starts once again, with a .922 SV% and a 2.25 GAA, however Giguere regained the starting role upon his return and led the Ducks to their championship.

It was following this that Bryzgalov made his displeasure known, complaining that Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle didn’t trust him in spite of his early successes. In light of Giguere’s new 4-year contract (mentioned in last week’s installment) and the Ducks’ signing of Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller, Ducks’ GM Brian Burke attempted to trade the Russian but was unable to get a deal done. As a result, Bryzgalov was placed on waivers early in the 2007-08 season and claimed by the lowly Phoenix Coyotes.

Bryzgalov would post 26 wins in each of his first two seasons for the Desert Dogs, though his statistics took a precipitous dip in the 2008-09 season which saw him post a .906 SV% and a GAA of around three per contest.

However it was after this that Bryzgalov seemed to decide that enough was enough. The Russian was one of the top goaltenders in the league in 2009-10 and in 2010-11 he posted top five rankings in minutes played, games played, saves, shots against, goals against, and shutouts with 7.

However even Bryzgalov’s emergence as a top regular season starter could not hide the fact that, for however successful his playoff runs with Anaheim had been, his playoff forays with Phoenix were just that bad. In consecutive seven and four game losses to Detroit in the past two seasons, Bryzgalov has posted a combined .896 SV% and his combined GAA would be too ugly to calculate, so I won’t bother. Just trust me, it’s bad.

When looking to add Bryzgalov, there are several factors for the Flyers to contemplate. The first question to ask would be how he would fit with the Flyers’ current Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Currently, Bobrovsky’s only Russian-speaking teammates are Ukrainian-born but Russian-trained Nikolay Zherdev (whose days with the Flyers are numbered) and Latvian native Oskars Bartulis.

Bobrovsky’s goalie coach Jeff Reese as well as the other goaltenders he works with in practice are from North America and don’t speak a lick of Russian, making it difficult for the 22-year-old foreigner to adjust (although he did an admirable job). Adding another Russian goaltender to mentor Bobrovsky seems like the way to go, however there are two problems with this.

First of all, Bryzgalov is not an old goaltender. He will turn 31 next month, which is typically an age which is right in the middle of a goaltender’s prime (goaltenders tend to peak from between ages 26 and 34). As such, Bryzgalov would probably be looking for a deal in the ballpark of 5 or 6 years. On the one hand. by my own estimation this contract would end just as Bobrovsky is entering this peak range, so the math seems to work out. On the other hand, that is a heck of a long time to sit as a backup for a young goaltender who is supposed to be developing. The Flyers might be forced to send Bobrovsky to the minors in order for him to get work, but if they do that it defeats the purpose of adding a Russian mentor to the NHL roster.

Secondly, according to Tim Panaccio’s anonymous source, Bryzgalov is a bit of a head case who tends to lose focus and needs to be “reined in” from time to time. No matter his spoken language, is that the kind of guy you want mentoring your young goaltender? To his credit Bobrovsky seems as down-to-earth and focused as they come if his interview answers are to be believed, which might allow him to withstand some of Bryzgalov’s eccentricities (which seem to come with a majority of Russian players). Hopefully Bryzgalov’s influence on Bobrovsky would be more positive than negative, but we won’t know until he is acquired, if or when that happens.

From a purely hockey standpoint, however, there are few downsides to this move. Bryzgalov has been a relatively consistent NHL performer since his breakout in 2005-06. In his four years with Phoenix, Bryzgalov has played in 55, 65, 69, and 68 games respectively. In three of those four years he has posted SV%’s of .920 or .921, which is around what the elite goalies in the league tend to post (typically between .920 and .930). He has also posted 15 shutouts over the past two seasons. This would indicate that Bryzgalov is a consistent presence in the net, especially considering that Phoenix is usually around the league leaders in shots allowed.

The question, as mentioned earlier, comes from his playoff performances.

After early success in Anaheim and great regular seasons with Phoenix, Bryzgalov has sputtered out in the playoffs in each of the last two years. This raises questions as to whether he is a playoff choker, a la Evgeni Nabokov, considering he has been terrible in two playoff years in Phoenix. The choking argument is one conclusion to be drawn, but let me throw a wrinkle in there. He’s on the Phoenix Coyotes. They’re playing the Detroit Red Wings. Does anyone other than me see that as a recipe for disaster?

It could be said that Bryzgalov carries Phoenix during the regular season, considering that coach Dave Tippett’s system is predicated on defense and the Coyotes are a middle of the pack team when it comes to offensive production. In this year’s sweep at the hands of Detroit, Bryzgalov didn’t only look bad, he looked done.

As the Red Wings scampered all over the hapless Coyotes, it occurred to me that the workload he sees as the Coyotes starter has gotten to him, especially as he almost single handedly wills that team to playoff appearances. The shellacking at the hands of the mighty Wings, to me, is a knock on the entire Phoenix team and not just their goaltender. In short, my opinion is this: better team, better performance.

VERDICT:

Ilya Bryzgalov is a top goaltender in the NHL, leading the Phoenix Coyotes to two consecutive playoff appearances, their first return to the playoffs since 2002. Bryzgalov will probably be seeking a contract in the ballpark of 5 years and will probably want between $5 and $5.5 million per year (a raise from his current $4.25 million price tag). As far as I’m concerned, Bryzgalov is worth every penny. He may not help Bobrovsky as much as some might think, but as many would be quick to point out the Flyers’ window is closing and they need a top-flight starter now.

Bryzgalov fits that bill to a T.


Take note that this section doesn’t take into account how the Flyers will clear cap space to add Bryzgalov, it is merely an analysis of what Bryzgalov would bring to the team and what he is worth.