Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.
By Jay Greenberg
Asked Monday whether it was dollars or years that still could keep Ilya Bryzgalov from becoming a Flyer, Paul Holmgren said: Both.
The GM didnt have to elaborate or put it into plain English that even Sergei Bobrovsky could understand. The shorter the contract for the most accomplished goalie of an underwhelming free-agent class, the better. It also would mean the greater the opportunity down the road to keep Bobrovsky, who in two years might turn out to be superior to Bryzgalov.
But of course, less than two months after Peter Laviolette used three goalies into a second-round dead end and almost 25 years after the Flyers last went into any series with a clear advantage in goal, the deal is going to get done.
As the Flyers approach this weekends draft without a first-round pick for a third consecutive year, they are built to win now. Moreover, they have been at this point too many times over too many decades to keep willfully putting themselves at such a critical disadvantage.
Flyer Nation has long believed that the team of Bernie Parent has been completely tone-deaf to the importance of his position. So perception has been reality, never mind that the Flyers have used the 22nd overall pick twice (Brian Boucher and Maxime Ouelett) to try to find the next Pelle Lindbergh, never mind that not every summer has a Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy been available for a signing or trade.
There are only so many superior goalies out there. Still, in 1998, Bob Clarke did have his pick of Mike Richter, Curtis Joseph and John Vanbiesbrouck and made a hauntingly third-best choice in a situation that had parallels to the one Holmgren and Ed Snider face.
On that July 1, Rangers GM Neil Smith had already negotiated a deal with Joseph. Richter was as good as gone from New York until the next day when the Joseph contract was shot down by a Madison Square Garden superior. Regardless, Clarke opted for a three-year deal with Vanbiesbrouck instead of the five-year deal Richter sought.
Roger Neilson, the Flyers coach, had coached them both and, when asked by Clarke, had no preference. And when Richter jumped back in and took a lesser deal from New York than what Joseph had accepted, to Clarke it only confirmed his suspicion that Richter never intended to leave New York he wanted only to use his hometown team to get more money out of the Rangers.
Vanbiesbrouck, three years older than the 31-year-old Richter, was on the downside and got beat to the shortside repeatedly in his one Flyer playoff series, a six-game loss to Toronto. When the Flyers went to the conference final the next year, rookie Boucher was one win from a huge upset of the Devils when he let in a softie to open Game 5 and thereafter was outdueled by Marty Brodeur.
A five-year window to a Cup with a Richter still in is prime never opened. And none of Clarkes good work that produced three finalists and another four semifinalists is remembered as much as that he never got a goalie. Ultimately, that will be Holmgrens doom too unless, 25 years after rookie Ron Hextall outplayed everybody including Grant Fuhr to get the Flyers to within one game of the 1987 Stanley Cup, they finally close this hole.
Or, at least are perceived as having done everything they could do to close it.
Its bizarre that an organization that over the years has spared little expense to win has not given itself the best possible option at the games most important position. But Snider and Holmgren dont have to be hit over head with this any longer to know that Bryzgalov is a deal they have to make. Even if its for a goalie who turns 31 on Wednesday and who, unlike a Richter of the same age in 1998, has had only one good playoff run (with Anaheim in 2006) and isnt universally considered the best some like Tomas Vokoun on the market.
Thats why Tim Thomas, 37, with two years to go on his deal, would have been the preferred fit, but he was just playoff MVP for a Cup-winning team. And besides, with Tuukka Rask signed for next year too, the Bruins can put off that decision for a year.
The Flyers dont have that luxury, which is why another draft choice (a third-rounder) went to Phoenix for negotiating rights, and almost all the leverage belongs to Bryzgalov.
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