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Numbers Game: Flyers sign Bryzgalov

Scott Cullen
6/24/2011 12:50:29 PM
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One of the catalysts for Philadelphia's blockbuster trades on Thursday was creating salary cap space so that they could sign a goaltender.

Numbers Game takes a look at the Flyers' signing of Ilya Bryzgalov.

Flyers Get: G Ilya Bryzgalov.

Bryzgalov, who turned 31 on Wednesday, has been among the NHL's best goaltenders over the last four seasons, posting a .917 save percentage in 266 games, 257 of which have been with the Phoenix Coyotes. The save percentage ranks fifth in the league among goaltenders with at least 200 games over that four-year span and 266 games played ranks fourth.

The Flyers have long been going with patchwork solutions between the pipes and it hasn't worked for them, so acquiring Bryzgalov's rights, then signing him to a nine-year, $51-million contract is a decidedly different approach. They've found a proven starting goaltender.

The bad news for the Flyers is that even as Bryzgalov is a better option than they've had in net for many years, a goaltending upgrade doesn't assure postseason success. The nature of a seven-game playoff series is such that even good goaltenders can come out looking subpar in small sample sizes; to wit, as Bryzgalov and the Coyotes were swept away by Detroit in the 2011 playoffs, his 4.36 goals against average and .879 save percentage were below his typical standards.

However, in 23 playoff games prior to this past season, Bryzgalov owned a 2.23 goals against average and .925 save percentage, so it's also not accurate to paint him with the brush of "unable to perform in the playoffs", based on four games against Detroit this past April.

Given the talent that is in place in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov should have plenty of opportunities to prove that he can perform under pressure in the postseason. If he comes up short, the fact that the Flyers jettisoned Carter and Richards to help make room for him surely won`t be forgotten.

Bryzgalov's nine-year contract includes a payment of $3.5-million over the final two years, prime years to be bought out, or buried, depending on the needs of the team and and Bryzgalov's level of play as he approaches 40 years of age.

Bryzgalov's presence does complicate matters somewhat, at least for 22-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky, who had a .915 save percentge in 54 games as a rookie for the Flyers last season.

Clearly, Bobrovsky won't be seeing that kind of workload for the foreseeable future, unless the Flyers trade him or Bryzgalov gets hurt. If he remains in Philadelphia, though, Bobrovsky would certainly be a high-quality backup.

Phoenix still has some work to do on finding a replacement for Bryzgalov. They did get a third-round pick in exchange for his rights, which should give them about a one-in-four chance to get an NHL player, but the more pressing concern is finding a starting goaltender to replace Bryzgalov.

Jason LaBarbera has been signed to a two-year deal and he's a solid backup, but Phoenix now has to look for a new solution in goal, whether that means trading for a young backup ready to take on a starter's role -- which could be costly in terms of assets -- or signing a free agent.

If Tomas Vokoun is too pricey for the budget-conscious Coyotes, then the rest of the unrestricted free agent market offers the likes of Johan Hedberg, Jose Theodore, Mike Smith or Brian Boucher.

It's entirely understandable that the Coyotes weren't willing to pay to keep Bryzgalov, but if they can't find the right solution in goal, it could be awfully difficult to remain a playoff team.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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