What to make of the Philadelphia Flyers?
Their 4-game winning streak has them right back on the playoff bubble, trailing the New York Rangers by two points and the New York Islanders by three. They’re doing this with a banged-up blue line that got a little more banged up with a Kimmo Timonen injury on Thursday night. One gets the sense they’re either going to be this year’s Los Angeles Kings – surging into the playoffs as an 8-seed and then going on a nice little run – or this is just another gigantic tease.
But one also gets the sense that no matter what they do, changes are a-comin’ for the Flyers in the offseason.
And while his play this season shouldn’t put him in this spot, the changes could begin with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers traded for Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets with an eye on signing him to a discount rate contract extension and then seeing what goalie coach Jeff Reese can make out of the former Calder winner.
GM Paul Holmgren didn’t exactly cement Bryzgalov as the starter when asked about Mason’s role with the Flyers. Via Bob Hunter of Buckeye Extra:
Of Mason, acquired from the Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday, Holmgren said: " We see him as one of our two goalies, not only the rest of this year, but moving forward. We'll just leave it at that for now."
Many observers take that to mean Bryzgalov is a prime candidate to be jettisoned this summer in a "contract amnesty" buyout. After this season, the Flyers owe Bryzgalov $34.5 million over the next seven years. If he is bought out, Philadelphia would be relieved of his salary-cap hit and he would become a free agent, but it wouldn't be cheap: The buyout formula calls for two-thirds of the remaining money divided by double the term, meaning Bryzgalov would get $23 million divided by 14 years or $1.64 million per season until 2027.
That seems unnecessarily harsh from Holmgren regarding the player his organization gave $60 million and a long-term commitment to just two summers ago. It certainly seems like the organization is down on Ilya Bryzgalov right now, and given today's developments, Bryz's departure from Philadelphia might come sooner than we all thought.
Again, Bryzgalov hasn’t been the problem for the Flyers on the ice, despite a 2.82 GAA and a save percentage under .900. (.899). He’s been their best player on some nights and a liability on others. Much like the rest of the team.
Buying out Bryzgalov is buying out a goalie that may never put it together in Philly, or at least enough to justify his contract. Buying him out is buying out a personality that’s been comic relief for the rest of us and a grating irritation for his team. Buying out Bryzgalov is admitting his contract was a mistake, and then reallocating that cap space to where it’s really needed: the blue line.
But buying out Bryzgalov is a bad idea, according to columnist Marcus Hayes of the Daily News, because it follows in a grand tradition of Philadelphia sports financial errors:
Last season he irritated his teammates, coaches and Holmgren with comments perceived as selfish, and with comments perceived as eccentric. He lost his starting job by the time the Flyers played in the Winter Classic, the league's showcase game.
Then he clammed up in interviews and clamped down between the pipes and was splendid last spring, but his tender feelings were so bruised by then that he ignored accolades.
Yes, it has been a prickly union, with an all-too-brief honeymoon, but there is no need to contemplate a costly split.
Well, except for the notion that the union should have never happened in the first place.