April 20, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) before the start of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC center. The Flyers defeated the Hurricanes 5-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Flyers Amnesty Ilya Bryzgalov


Apr 25, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; \linesman Wes MCCauley (4) talks with Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) during the third period against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Islanders, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Less than 24 hours after the Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Boston Bruins in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, winning their second championship in four years, the Flyers continued their drastic overhaul of their roster, using their second compliance buyout allotted by the collective bargaining agreement to cut ties with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov only two years into his nine-year/$51 million deal.

#Flyers announce they intend to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov.

— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) June 25, 2013

Speculation that the team would cut ties with the estranged netminder had heightened following his choice words of the media, fanbase, and organization after the team finished their regular season missing the playoffs.  While the team cannot officially use their buyout on Bryzgalov or veteran winger Danny Briere until Wednesday at 11 P.M. (48 hours after the last game played), the always-active Flyers organization has wasted little time laying out their plans for yet another active offseason.

One can split hairs over any number of reasons why the Russian goalie, who joins a long list of Flyers goalies who have been unable to fill the pipes left by Bernie Parent the last time the Orange-and-Black hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, became such a burden to a team who just a season ago looked to be one of the most promising young team’s in the league. The contract, for one, was a weight to bear in and of itself. While Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren had never shied away from breaking the bank to get the players they want, giving a player who had spent his entire career in small markets and benefited from defense-oriented teams a contract worth $51 million dollars over almost a decade was a major leap of faith that proved to be ill-fated.

Apr 23, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) sits on the bench against the Boston Bruins during the second period at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It also appeared that management had swept a few red flags under the table in their desperation to find the goalie that would be the missing piece to return to the top. Aside from a few less-than-stellar playoff performances in the postseason with the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov’s former teammates seemed almost relieved with the departure of the eccentric Russian. While his Flyers teammates always seemed to have his back when they were goaded to try and criticize Bryzgalov, word started to trickle out Tuesday afternoon that maybe locker room issues played a part. Many remember Bryzgalov for his entertaining antics in the 2011-2012 version of 24/7, HBO’s production of the weeks leading up to the Flyers’ Winter Classic date with the New York Rangers. The Russian was a hit from the get-go and appeared to have the sort of blase, estranged goaltender approach to talking with the media that is associated with some of the game’s greatest. However, as is so often the case, one can fall out of favor very quickly if his play does not live up to the larger-than-life persona created by Bryzgalov. When it was all said and done, after several weeks of sub-par play, Bryzgalov was benched in favor of 2013 Vezina Trophy winner and former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky as the team fell to the ‘Blueshirts’ at Citizen’s Bank Park. Although he managed to turn things around for a stretch of the 2012 season, some wonder whether the ’24/7 debacle’ was an omen of things to come.

Finally; and at the end of the day most importantly, Bryzgalov generally did not play well enough in his time in Philadelphia to earn management’s loyalty. There was a stretch where he played like an elite goalie, setting the franchise mark for longest shutout stretch at 196 minutes and 13 seconds. However, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot after being struck with a Jake Voracek shot and never regained his stellar form. His play in the 2012 postseason was only good enough because the team scored at a record rate in their memorable series against the Penguins and he appeared as lost as the rest of the team in their untimely loss to the New Jersey Devils. His play during the season, while he showed brief flashes of being  a franchise goalie, was never quite good enough and criticism increased on why he was never able to ‘steal games’ like some of the game’s best. Eventually, as the team fell out of playoff contention, they made a move to acquire former Calder Trophy Winner Steve Mason from Columbus. While it was a small sample size (6 starts), Mason flashed the sort of talent and confidence that led Columbus to their only playoff berth in 2009. The 25-year old went 4-2 and posted an impressive 1.90 goals against average as the team found their silver lining to a forgettable 2013 season. While Bryzgalov rode the bench, it was still in doubt that the team would go into their 2013-2014 campaign hitching their wagon to Mason. However, his attitude following the team’s disappointing season and shaky performance in the World Championships increased the speculation and the writing on the wall became as evident as ever. 

Even after it was reported that Paul Holmgren had given Bryzgalov a vote of confidence, former Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards can attest that those words might as well be a kiss of death. Sure enough, after Danny Briere’s classy departure from the organization following his contract being bought out, the news came down Tuesday afternoon that Bryzgalov would suffer the same fate. While his attitude was not nearly as appreciative as Briere’s, Bryzgalov remained polarizing until the end, sending one last jab toward the heavily scrutinized Flyers beat reporter corps following the news that he would not return.

Apr 18, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) against the New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

So thus ends another calamitous career of a Flyers goaltender, while the team’s offseason, as always, holds promise that they will somehow put the pieces together and return to the playoffs ready for another run, all the past champions have shown that it is impossible to win without supreme goaltending. At the end of the day, the organization did own up to the mistake of the contract and admits that moving forward required swallowing their pride and admitting a mistake.

Holmgren called Bryz signing the “most costly mistake we’ve made” … stands behind him saying his antics were “blown out of proportion…”

— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) June 25, 2013

At the end of the day, while I would say it is for the better, not worse that Bryzgalov will no longer don the orange-and-black (and perhaps never another NHL uniform ever as there is speculation that he will return to play professionally in Russia), one cannot help but feel a foreboding sense that the team will still be unable to find the type of netminder who can handle the heat of playing in Philadelphia and performing at a championship level. Meanwhile, Bryzgalov will have more than enough income, over the next 14 years mind you, to invest and explore in any sort of inter-stellar studies and cosmonautical adventures as the team will be paying him $23 million dollars to never play for their team again. Stay tuned, as General Manager Paul Holmgren, while not specifying any targets, promises that, once again, the team figures to be among the most active in the next couple of weeks.

 

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