In the summer of 2011, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren thought Ilya Bryzgalov was worth a $51-million contract over nine years.
But two years later, Holmgren decided it was in the best interest of his club to buyout Bryzgalov and go with Ray Emery and Steve Mason between the pipes.
Part of the reason the Flyers bought out Bryzgalov is because of their tricky salary cap situation with it lowering under the new CBA. Nonetheless, that still begs the question – how did Bryzgalov go from deserving to be one of the highest paid goalies in the league to a liability in Holmgren’s mind in a matter of 24 months?
With the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov excelled under Dave Tippett’s defensive-minded system. In his last two years with the club, he averaged a .920 save percentage or better and his worst average in the two years was 2.48.
In hindsight vision, though, Bryzgalov’s numbers could have been a tad deceiving because of the strong defence-first system ahead of him. His replacement, Mike Smith, improved his save percentage by .31 to .930 when he left the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Coyotes. It’s possible Smith could be just a late-bloomer, but it seems more than likely Tippett played a major role in his exceptional 2011-12 year.
In the 2011 playoffs, meanwhile, Bryzgalov displayed below-average goaltending. His .879 save percentage and 4.36 average is what ultimately led the Detroit Red Wings over the Coyotes in a sweep.
Apparently, the Flyers forgot about the Wade Redden precedent. You see, Redden underperformed with the Ottawa Senators in their 2007 playoff run. But that didn’t stop the New York Rangers from giving him a massive six-year, $39-million deal. A couple years later, Rangers general manager Glenn Sather figured out he made a mistake, so he sent Redden down to the minors to get him off the cap. Then when every team in the NHL was awarded two cap-free buyouts under the new CBA, Redden was bought out.
Taking all of this into account, if the Flyers did any research on Bryzgalov prior to the summer of 2011, they may have given him a contract, but one along the lines of four years for around $3.5 million a season. That is what he was worth. He proved that he was a capable starter, but there was no evidence to suggest he was a top-15 goaltender.
In addition, you have to be naïve to think Flyers owner Ed Snyder and Holmgren didn’t foresee this disaster coming. Their city hasn’t seen a consistent goalie since Ron Hextall in the 1990s and there was no way Bryzgalov could live up to his contract. There was no question this marriage wouldn’t work out, it was just a matter of how ugly it would get before the divorce. And in the end, Philly gave Bryzgalov the house and car and were forced to move onto a much less attractive second wife. Or I guess in this case it would be the Flyers’ 50th or so puck-stopping wife.
Even though Holmgren denied it, it seems a major reason why the Flyers bought out Bryzgalov is the comedy act he put on with reporters. For us fans, it’s great to hear his funny one-liners. But inside the dressing room, it would have undoubtedly been a distraction.
“I think Ilya is a colourful guy,” Holmgren told TSN. “Does he say things out of the blue sometimes? Absolutely, but I don’t think he’s any different than a lot of other players I have been associated with. I didn’t have an issue with that. This is strictly a business decision.”
Bryzgalov’s ‘colourful personality’ is hampering him from getting another job in The Show. Teams don’t want distractions in the dressing room, and Bryzgalov has become the king of dressing room distractions whether he’s talking about the universe or telling reporters he’s afraid of bears. It seems if it wasn’t for his handful of crazy comments, the Florida Panthers, who gave Bryzgalov a tryout before pulling it off the table when Tim Thomas accepted his PTO, wouldn’t have been the only team to call his agent.
However, solely based on Bryzgalov’s hockey resume, a handful of teams such as the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets could use his services. Those said teams would all be better with him in their lineup. He likely deserves around the $2.5 mark, too. But he won’t get it because of teams’ lack of cap space and his reputation for getting in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.