June 8, 2011

Call me the Bryz.

After some idle speculation about acquiring Tim Thomas, the Philadelphia Flyers have traded for yet another goaltending savior, the latest answer in a seemingly never-ending question that has been asked since the early days of Ron Hextall.

This year's contender is Ilya Bryzgalov, the 30-year-old former Phoenix Coyotes netminder. The free-agent-to-be is a name that has been tossed around a lot over the last few months, especially since he expressed disinterest in following the team to Winnipeg.

Even the most strident Sergei Bobrovsky/Brian Boucher defenders would have trouble arguing that Bryzgalov won't be a major upgrade on paper. His 2.48 GAA was 12th amongst starters, and his .921 save percentage was ninth. And he has seven shutouts, which are "games where the opposing teams score zero goals" for all those Flyers fans who've forgotten the term.

But will Bryzgalov be a fit in Philly? His agent noted yesterday that "the only Flyer goaltender to have statistics like [Ilya] was Bernie Parent," which is lofty praise for someone who hasn't even set foot in the city yet. Expectations will be high, like they always are, and there's no guarantee that Ilya will live up to them. He's 12-13 in the playoffs with a 2.55 GAA and .917 save percentage; solid numbers but not exactly a series-stealer like Thomas has been in 2011.

Plus, Tim Panaccio's already noted that Bryzgalov may not be a fit for the "Bob's mentor" role that some are envisioning. Apparently he can "get a little goofy on you," which isn't a surprise when it comes to goalies but not necessarily the most enviable trait for young Bobrovsky's role model to exhibit.

Then again, that shit is always overrated. Everyone always wants to hear that Player X is teaching all of his tricks to Player Y, and they're best friends ready to take on all comers. But Bobrovsky's already put together a very solid rookie season, and Bryzgalov is a hired gun brought in to backstop this group of players to a championship in the next year or two. I'm sure watching a good goalie ply his trade every night will do more than enough for Bob's "development," and if not, well, that's why they pay Jeff Reese: to teach goalies.

As for the move itself, I can't say I saw it coming. Paul Holmgren should be commended for his Ruben Amaro-esque aggressiveness, but it hasn't always paid off. Trading for the rights of Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell in 2007 led to a nice, smooth signing, but the team also gave away assets in an attempt to snap up Evgeni Nabokov and Dan Hamhuis, only to see negotiations with both players fall apart.

And now Holmgren has to make the money work. Sam Carchidi speculated on Twitter last night that, in order to pay the Bryz, the Flyers will probably move a defenseman (Matt Carle?) and let Ville Leino walk. I won't miss Leino too much, but the team's defensive "depth" was already exposed in the playoffs. Losing someone won't help on that front; they're going to need another year of giant minutes from Chris Pronger and Timonen. Neither man, however, is a spring chicken; Pronger's health in particular is very much a question mark. As good as Bryzgalov might be, he won't take the team far without a solid group of defenders in front of him.

Free agency doesn't begin until July 1, so Holmgren will have plenty of time to lock up Bryzgalov and make the necessary accompanying moves. That will be (relatively) easy. The tough part will be battling through roughly 100 hockey games, keeping key players healthy and focused, and emerging with the Stanley Cup. If Bryzgalov can play a big part in pulling that off, maybe we will be comparing him to Bernie someday.

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