Flyers' Goal Is Signing Bryzgalov, But It May Not Be Easy

Flyers' Goal Is Signing Bryzgalov, But It May Not Be Easy

On Tuesday night, the Flyers opened the NHL off-season early, trading for the rights to free-agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov. The final horn on the 2010-2011 season hasn't even sounded, with the Stanley Cup Finals still very much underway, but that didn't stop GM Paul Holmgren from getting started.

Below, we'll take a look at some of the Flyers precedent moves ahead of free agency opening, the career to date of Bryzgalov, and the presumably tough road that faces the Flyers if they want to actually sign him.

TRADING AHEAD OF THE MARKET
The move to acquire Bryzgalov's rights may have surprised most fans and media alike, but it's not out of character for Homer and the Flyers to try to jump the market. The team successfully signed both Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell (retro link!) after trading for their rights in June of 2007. More recently, they acquired the rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis and received permission to negotiate with goalie Evgeni Nabokov last off-season. Both sets of free agents are a good lesson in the wide spectrum of what could happen with Bryzgalov. While Timonen and Hartnell are Flyers, Hamhuis' rights were flipped to Pittsburgh for a draft pick after the Flyers couldn't sign him (nor could the Penguins, who got nothing in return), and Nabokov chose to head to Russia before ultimately winding up a New York Islander via a path too long to describe here. Long story short, the Flyers' two most recent attempts at getting ahead of the market to land a targeted player resulted in little more than a lot of wasted ink and keystrokes.

That's not to say the same will happen with Bryzgalov, of course. The goalie is most certainly looking for his next hockey home, and the Flyers should be an attractive landing place if the money and duration of contract are right (a big if, but we'll get to that later).

However, the Flyers won't be able to pull the trigger on an offer right away. Frank Seravalli points out that they can't make a deal until the new salary cap is announced unless they make a trade. Even after the new cap is announced, they will likely need to move salary if they intend to accommodate the cap hit of the market's top available goalie. Plus, as we learned last season after poring over the Hamhuis and Nabokov possibilities, the Flyers may not be willing or able to offer a desirable enough deal, either because the free agent wants more money, or simply wants to play elsewhere.

On Tuesday night, Holmgren said that he had not yet spoken to Bryzgalov's agent, Ritch Winter. But, the GM also gave every indication that the team acquired his rights with the intention of signing him, not just kicking the tires ahead of the rest of the league joining the shopping spree.

BRYZ'S BIO IN BRIEF
While most hockey enthusiasts will know quite a bit about the NHL veteran by now, playing in the Western Conference for his entire career has kept him off the radar for many as well. Most of us know what we've read far more than what we've actually seen. Bryzgalov has represented his native Russia in numerous international competitions, including the World Juniors, World Championship, and the Olympics, notching a Bronze in the competition while not actually appearing in any games, and a gold in 2009 World Championships with an impressive run. Bryzgalov began his NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks (they were "Mighty" then) after being selected in the second round of the 2000 entry draft. In Anaheim, he faced a difficult depth chart that included JS Giguere, Martin Gerber, and finally Jonas Hiller, but he was ultimately a part of a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2007. Giguere was the club's starter though, and also the recipient of a new contract. The Ducks were unable to work a deal to move Bryzgalov, and he was waived early in the 2007-2008 season, then claimed by Phoenix, where he's been since.

His career NHL numbers include a 2.53 GAA and a .916 save percentage, as well as a record of 156-116-35. [Video highlights here]

Bryzgalov garnered recognition as a stud goaltender in his second full season with the Coyotes (2009-2010), posting 42 wins, a 2.29 GAA, and a .920 save percentage. With the franchise faltering at nearly every level, their goaltender was a major factor in leading them to the playoffs in a tough division and was the runner up in Vezina Trophy voting for the league's top goalie.

However, neither of his two playoff campaigns with the Coyotes—both against the Detroit Red Wings—were what you would call stellar, including an 0-4, 4.36, .879 mark in 2011.

Therein lies one of the concerns many Flyers fans will have. Getting to the postseason is rarely this team's problem.

WHAT ABOUT BOB (AND THE '10-'11 FLYERS "DEPTH")?
Bryzgalov will begin the season at the age of 31, presumably right within the prime of a goaltender's career with a handful of high-caliber seasons ahead of him. As such, he'll want and will likely command a long-term deal north of $5 million or even $6 million per season after pulling in $4.25 million in the final year of his Coyotes deal. If Sergei Bobrovsky's the goalie of the future for this franchise, I hope he's learned a lot from Kevin Kolb.

We'll probably get more into what this all means for Bob in a later post, possibly after the Flyers actually sign Bryzgalov, which is far from a forgone conclusion at this point. There's little reason to believe Bryzgalov would be a short-term answer or a bridge to Bob though. Why would he sign a 2- or even 3- year deal at the height of his value?

Last off-season, the Flyers were unable to land any of the big name goalies on the market, but that may have been in part due to their belief that they could build a strong enough team both offensively and defensively to support "good" goaltending—not necessarily a true #1 guy. Although goaltending wasn't the team's only problem during a second half collapse and a sweep out of the second round of the playoffs, the postseason carousel was ultimately a major issue, and also seemingly a source of embarrassment at the highest levels. Chairman Ed Snider, while on the one hand touting the prospects of Bobrovsky as a possible goalie of the future for the team, made it clear he wants an answer in net now as well.

If the Flyers can come to terms with Bryzgalov, it's hard to imagine there being a whole lot of room to also groom Bobrovsky. If there is, it would likely mean that Bryzgalov has either been injured or has faltered in his new surroundings, which would be a disaster. Bobrovsky is under the Flyers' control for now though, and Holmgren said the duo would be among the best tandems in the league if Bryz joins the Flyers, indicating that Bob wouldn't be headed to Adirondack for seasoning (although that could change, and holding a GM to the comments he gives reporters is foolhardy). Even if Bobrovsky does stay with the Flyers, it's highly unlikely the goaltending situation will resemble what we've seen in previous seasons, with the duties being traded off regularly throughout the season, and worse, the postseason.

Best-case scenario if Bryzgalov is signed, is the team completely reverses historical course and does have a dynamic tandem, with one guy starting a backup's share of games, and down the road, the team has flexibility with possibly moving a sought-after goalie for whatever needs it has at the time.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.

WHAT'S NEXT?
There's still a lot that needs to happen before any possible deal can fully be evaluated. If and when Bryzgalov signs, there will not likely be total agreement on the part of the fans as to whether it was the best move, at least not before any games are played. Even if the NHL's cap raises to the levels most assume it will, the
Flyers will still be tight on space to retain anything resembling the full complement of their current roster.
Brian Boucher didn't quite make $5mil+ a season.

A player or, more likely, several players will either not be re-signed (perhaps Ville Leino) and/or traded in order to accommodate the cap hit. This would signal a marked change in the Flyers philosophy from last off-season, and despite the fact that two studs are opposing each other in this year's Finals, there are plenty of examples of teams making sacrifices to land a top goalie and still not getting over the hump, while relative unknowns hoist the Cup.

Then again, it's hard to argue that a well-balanced team with a top-tier goaltender is a bad way to go after it. The questions now are, is Bryzgalov truly a top-tier guy, can the Flyers get him to sign, and will the sacrifice in depth be worth it?

We'll look into each of those as news arises on the Bryzgalov front. Until then, we're all ears for your opinions.

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

Nelson Agholor’s rookie season was a disappointment, but his second year in the NFL was a disaster, the pressure of which was clearly getting to him. Now Agholor finds himself on the roster bubble as his third year with the Eagles commences, and it’s fair to wonder what the wide receiver’s mindset is like in 2017.

“Confident and comfortable,” Agholor said Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, where phase three of OTAs had just begun.

Earlier in the day, Agholor had been involved at practice — cycling in with the first-team offense and getting plenty of looks, too. Later, he would be the last player to leave the field, continuing to run sprints alone after practice ended. Finally, back in the locker room, Agholor explained the epiphany he arrived at during the offseason, and how he knows he’s ready to put 2016 behind him.

“I just had a realization that the only thing that matters is the current situation,” Agholor said. “I’m here, I have an opportunity to get better and make myself a better football player.”

None of this means everything is about to click for Agholor, and he’s suddenly going to perform up to his status as a first-round pick. The Eagles clearly weren’t counting on that, either, when they signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, then selected two more receivers in the draft.

If Agholor intends to turn his career around, a fresh outlook isn’t a bad place to start.

Failing to meet expectations and under relentless scrutiny, Agholor’s demeanor changed over the course of last season. Frustrations finally boiled over during a postgame rant after an Eagles loss to the Cowboys. Four weeks later, he was a healthy scratch against the Packers. Though Agholor suited up for the final five games, there was no discernable change from a production standpoint.

“That’s in the past,” Agholor said. “I practiced today. I got after it today. Anything that happened back then, it happened for a reason.”

Agholor — who turned 24 Wednesday — attributed the bulk of his struggles to youth and inexperience while denying mental or confidence issues were to blame for his performance. With only 59 receptions for 648 yards and three touchdowns to show after two years, the Eagles couldn’t wait for him to grow up any longer, which led to Jeffery and Smith being brought aboard.

“I took it for what it was,” Agholor said. “I said, ‘This was what happened, this is the new opportunity, so every day, just focus on getting better at some aspect of it.’

“It’s all about getting better consistently each day, even if it’s just a little. At the end of the day, the whole world will be like, ‘Man, this is the product?’ Some of the best players in this league, they didn’t just become really great the first day there. It took a process and continuous progression every day.”

But how exactly does Agholor go about making that jump? Because work ethic has never been a complaint, nor was talent a problem at USC, where he finished with 179 receptions for 2,571 yards and 20 touchdowns in 40 games.

There’s no telling whether Agholor will ever put it all together in the NFL. He has refined his approach, however.

“I focused on the simple grind, whether it’s conditioning, whether it was living weights,” Agholor said of offseason workouts. “I wasn’t trying to have just a miracle happen. I just started focusing on the simplest things.

“I got on the track and worked on my speed and worked on my conditioning. I was in the weight room, worked on my strength and my durability, making sure my muscles were working the right way. That’s all it was, little things like that.”

Coaches and teammates are seeing a difference in Agholor as well. Most of all, they believe competing against veterans like Jeffery and Smith will bring the best out of a young receiver still trying to find his way.

“Nelson's attitude has been great. He's worked extremely hard this offseason,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “As I've said all along, competition sharpens you, and that's what I've seen from Nelson.”

“I feel like competition is what’s going to help breed production,” Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “If you’ve got more guys coming in and working, you don’t have time to worry about this, this and this. You have to worry about going in and keeping your job, you have to worry about going in and making plays every single day, and that goes for everybody, not just Nelson.”

Agholor does not disagree.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to compete vs. some really good players,” Agholor said of Jeffery and Smith. “These guys have proven themselves in the league, so if I show that I’m capable of performing the same way they are, then I’m in the conversation.”

That might seem like wishful thinking, but for this brief period in OTAs, Agholor has the upper hand — he knows the offense. And even if the Eagles wanted to move on from Agholor this year, his contract is such that a release would cost more against the salary cap than if he was to remain on the roster.

Financial ramifications aside, Agholor’s spot on the final 53-man roster legitimately appears to be in jeopardy. His hope in the meantime is to make himself indispensable.

“I feel like I want to be one of the best players on this team, and that takes care of it right there,” Agholor said. “I want to be a guy when you watch him on tape, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I need him.’

“The best players play, and I want to be one of the best players.”

For all of the doubts about his confidence, Agholor has seldom had any trouble expressing a general belief that he belongs in the NFL. Any doubts he did have, he obviously did not entertain for very long, based on his goals in 2017.

“I love this game, and I want to play this game for a long time, so I’m not going to allow anybody besides myself determine how long I do this,” Agholor said. “This is only Year 3, and I want to play 10-plus. The only way I do that is making myself available and making myself a good football player.”

Coming off of a season that nearly caused him to lose his swagger and cool, Agholor is doing and saying all the right things again, even as the Eagles bring in potential replacements. Perhaps the notion that it feels like a step in the right direction speaks to how poorly those first two seasons went.

Quick Slants podcast: Lane Johnson impressed by Derek Barnett

Quick Slants podcast: Lane Johnson impressed by Derek Barnett

It took Lane Johnson just one day to figure it out: Derek Barnett might be pretty good. 

The Eagles' right tackle went up against the 14th overall pick in last month's NFL draft several times during Tuesday's first OTA practice and the young pass-rusher more than held his own. 

Johnson was a guest on the Quick Slants Podcast with Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks and he said he was impressed by Barnett. 

"I had a chance to go against him today," Johnson said. "He's got a few moves in his arsenal just from being a rookie. I expect a big year from him just from seeing him go against other guys, me going against him. He's a very talented guy." 

What specifically impressed Johnson about Barnett? 

"He can get real low, dip that edge and shave a lot of yards off when he's rushing the passer," Johnson said. "Everybody was talking about Myles Garrett being the best rusher in the class, but I think they underestimated Derek."

Barnett was just one of the topics Johnson touched on in this week's podcast. He also talked about his future after PED violations and the state of the entire Eagles' offense. Check out the full podcast here