Until a definitive announcement is made, we can't assume that the 2012-13 National Hockey League season will begin on time. If it does, will Philadelphia Flyers' goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov be able to play consistently from October through next spring?
Then suddenly, last summer
After surviving a loose seven-game Quarterfinals series against the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers were swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the spring of 2011. Flyers' founder and chairman Ed Snider then directed general manager Paul Holmgren to directly address the team's long-standing goaltending issues. So, 'Homer' targeted the Phoenix Coyotes and obtained the rights to their pending free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
'Bryz' became $51 million dollars richer last summer when he agreed to the Flyers' nine-year contract offer. After watching his overall performance last season, most fans believed that he hadn't earned the front-loaded $15 million ($10 in salary + $5 million bonus) that he had received.
Then and now
While his regular season numbers (.909 save percentage and 2.48 GAA) weren't bad, they were far from dominant. His combined 11-game postseason performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils also didn't cause people to buy Bryzgalov jerseys.
It's fair to say that his late-season team-record scoreless streak (249 minutes and 43 seconds) stands as evidence that he can carry his team. The question is, will the defense that plays in front of him this season be sufficient to allow him to play within his game?
Everyone in the hockey world understands that Bryzgalov's mental focus remains suspect. Confidence is something that any 32-year-old player, who first appeared in the League in the 2001-02 season, should already have. However, goaltenders are a unique and sometimes fragile breed.
At this point, I don't anticipate Bryzgalov's personality changing in any meaningful way. I'm also not part of the crowd who believes that he will never live up to expectations. The man played one year in a big hockey market. Three years from now, if he still hasn't distinguished himself in the postseason, doubtful characterizations of him will be more than fair. But, we are living in the here and now.
Hopefully, the start of another hockey season takes place in the relatively near future. As for the Flyers, I want to believe that 'Bryz' wants to create the best moments of his professional career within these next few years. With that attitude and a good team in front of him, Stanley Cup dreams will move closer to reality.
Sean O'Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He has written professionally for over two decades and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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