With the Flyers’ season coming to a close soon, most of Philadelphia is looking to this offseason and wondering who will don the orange and black next season – and perhaps more importantly, who won’t. That Holmgren will use one compliance or “amnesty” buyout on Danny Briere’s $6.5 million cap hit is all but a foregone conclusion at this point, but the second big name being thrown about for a potential trip out of town is Ilya Bryzgalov.
Ilya Bryzgalov is a good goaltender. He’s certainly capable of playing a lot of games at a pretty high level, and I would even go so far as to say he could win a Cup behind the right team. When the Flyers made their bed with his big contract, the team was legitimately a Bryzgalov away from competing. The injury to Chris Pronger, however, changed that. In hindsight, Bryz was always doomed to fail in Philadelphia, especially with next year’s decreased cap ceiling and the cap recapture rules that would hit the Flyers with a not-inconsequential penalty if Bryz were to fail to play through the remainder of his deal.
Because of all of this, it’s not unreasonable to say that Bryzgalov will not be here beyond next summer, and may yet be bought out this summer despite reports that the Flyers’ front office is split on retaining him. Whether or not Bryzgalov is viewed as expendable most likely depends on a couple of names this summer: Jonathan Bernier and Roberto Luongo.
At age 24, Bernier is a terrific young goaltender with the potential to be a strong to quite strong starter in this league for a long time. He is admittedly a bit unproven, having played behind the stellar Jonathan Quick for the last few seasons and making only 61 NHL starts, but his .912 career SV% and 2.36 GAA are quite strong for a young goalie and his .922 SV% and 1.86 GAA in 13 games this year are quite promising. On top of the stats, after watching him play as much as possible for a few seasons, it’s clear his game is progressing well and he downright looks ready.
After winning the Stanley Cup as the backup to Quick last summer, Bernier reportedly requested a trade out of LA so that he could pursue a starting gig elsewhere. However, Quick’s offseason back surgery and uncertain availability this year forced GM Dean Lombardi to hold onto Bernier for the year. Now on an expiring contract that leaves him as an RFA next year, LA has the ability to retain him for next year but the clock will be ticking. Bernier will undoubtedly want out this summer, and if LA hangs onto him again they’ll get minimal return out of him at the deadline next year or he’ll walk that summer for nothing.
His trade value will be highest this summer while a team can acquire his rights as an RFA and negotiate a friendly bridge contract, most likely at this summer’s draft. Because teams know the clock is ticking for LA to deal him, it’s unlikely that he’ll net a king’s ransom. LA would certainly like to push for a Conacher-for-Bishop type of deal, but in recent years goalies have not garnered huge returns in the offseason. From the Flyers, something centered around Matt Read give or take a pick or prospect could be an option. While many Flyers fans are unlikely to want to give up on a player as useful and generally reliable as Read, the reality is that at age 26 he’s probably as good – and valuable in a trade – as he’ll ever be. As for Bernier’s next contract, it’s likely that he would sign a short deal worth a maximum of about $3 million per season for a year or two, saving the Flyers $2.66 million per year on Bryzgalov’s current AAV.
Luongo, on the other hand, will not require the loss of any assets in a trade to acquire. After publicly admitting that his contract “sucks,” and therefore makes him untradeable, there’s virtually no chance that Luongo will be traded this summer. And with the cap dropping next year and Luongo eating up almost $6 million of that precious space, he absolutely has to move. The Canucks currently have just 15 people rostered for next season, but only $1.3 million in cap space. There’s no chance that Luongo doesn’t get bought out. No GM will trade for him on his albatross-like contract when they know he can be had as a free agent after a buyout.
There will certainly be no shortage of teams attempting to court Luongo, either. The goaltender has been consistently excellent throughout his entire career with a career .919 SV% and 2.51 GAA, and is still the type of starter that a team can rely on. It’s likely that he will sign a reasonable contract, too; at this point Luongo simply wants to play, and will be receiving 2/3 of his old contract’s salary via the compliance buyout. So with about $4 million per season coming from a buyout for the next 5 years and $1-2 million per year for a few years beyond that, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sign a 2-4 year deal for somewhere in the range of $4.0-4.5 million per season (my money is on something around $4m). My thinking here is that Schneider is a direct comparison to where Luongo’s at, and if a 25 year old goalie putting up better numbers on the same team is only worth $4m per season (which bought some of his UFA years), Luongo won’t get too much higher than that despite being a UFA veteran. At the very least, he should be about a million cheaper than Bryzgalov, and is frankly a better goaltender, if a bit older.
The Flyers would be in great shape with either goaltender between the pipes. From a hockey standpoint, both of these goalies could potentially be as good as Bryz or better, and in either situation the Flyers are saving cap dollars to spend elsewhere on a roster that badly needs improvement. A Bernier/Mason tandem provides two young goalies with an equally viable shot at seizing the starting role and running with it for several years to come. Even if both of them should falter, this youthful Flyers core is a couple seasons away from really being a contender, so the growing pains wouldn’t be fatal. A Luongo/Mason tandem provides a top-end starter who can handle high-pressure markets like Philly with a solid – yet not overly threatening – backup who can potentially mature behind him. While 34 years of age, Luongo is still a very good goaltender with a few seasons left in the tank, and a 2-3 year deal should see him through the Flyers’ likely window to compete for a Cup.
Of the two, Bernier would be my preferred option because (in my opinion) he’s ready to be a starter in the NHL and he could be the long-term goalie the Flyers so badly covet. However, either one of them would be a terrific fit here in Philadelphia if the club decides to part ways with Bryzgalov – which should probably happen, if only for pure economical concerns and not as a hockey decision.