5 Points You Shouldn't Ignore about the Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov Debacle

5 Points You Shouldn't Ignore about the Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov Debacle

Two years and two days after signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal, the Flyers on Tuesday admitted they made a mistake.

Bryzgalov -- defiant, moody and accusatory right up to the end -- naturally blamed the media.

There's little arguing that getting rid of him wasn't the right move -- it was -- but here are five spectacularly awful aspects about his tenure you shouldn't ignore, and they're all about the front office.


1. Amnestying Bryzgalov should not have been possible

When the Flyers offered Bryzgalov his contract in 2011, compliance buyouts didn't exist.

The only reason the Flyers were able to get rid of Bryzgalov after two seasons: the NHL lockout. To help teams find their way back under a lower cap they didn't plan for, the league granted each franchise two compliance buyouts.

If certain NHL clubs weren't in financial distress, and the league was economically viable enough that it didn't feel need to lower its salary cap, this would not have been an option.

The Flyers would have been stuck, unless they found a trade partner -- ask the Vancouver Canucks how that's going with a guy who has been both better and substantially less toxic than Bryzgalov -- or they were willing to have the buyout count against their cap for the next 14 years.

2. The Flyers traded away a Vezina winner
Was it reasonable to think Sergei Bobrovsky was going to win the Vezina this year? No. But what was wrong with him in the first place?

As a 22-year-old rookie, Bobrovsky posted a 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage in 54 games. Those numbers aren't bad at all, especially when you consider how they inflated when he ran out of gas down the stretch. His performance over the final month of the 2011 season, when he had clearly hit a wall, led to a Bobrovsky-Brian Boucher-Michael Leighton goalie carousel orchestrated by coach Peter Laviolette. There is little arguing Laviolette -- for all the good he's done as coach and for as likable as he is in the position -- didn't mismanage the situation. Badly.

The Flyers barely survived the Sabres, got swept by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, and soon opted to drastically change course when they traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and acquired Bryzgalov all on the same day.

Once Bryz was added, Bob languished as a backup and the team decided it was best to trade him to Columbus because he wasn't going to get the playing time he needed behind Bryzgalov. At some point between the end of their 2011 playoff run (on May 6) and the day they signed Bryzgalov (June 23), the team decided an inexpensive 22-year-old rookie with one surprisingly encouraging season under his belt was not their future.

No Flyers goaltender has won the Vezina since Ron Hextall's rookie season in 1986-87. The Blue Jackets did not make the playoffs.

3. Richards and Carter won a Stanley Cup, and they're going to be really good for a long time
In order to sign Bryzgalov, the Flyers traded the faces of their franchise, two guys who were in their prime.

Richards was 26, had been named  captain, had been to an All-Star game, had won a Gold Medal with Team Canada, and was heading into the fourth year of a 12-year $69 million deal. He was and still is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. At various points, he got salty with the media because it was alleged he and his teammates partied too much, which didn't prevent this from happening nor the team from coming within two wins -- and, go figure, a competent goaltender -- of the Stanley Cup.

As for Carter, the ink had barely dried on his 11-year, $58 million contract. He was one season into it before was dealt to Columbus. He had already scored 46 goals in a season and followed it up with 33 goals and 36 goals over the next two years. Those numbers did not immediately translate into success in the playoffs, during which he was often hurt.

Three years after making Richards the captain and one year after giving Carter an 11-year deal, the Flyers shipped them both out of town in order to sign Bryzgalov.

Two years later, Bryzgalov is no longer a Flyer, Richards and Carter have been reunited in L.A., they've already won a Cup, they went back to the Western Conference Finals this year, Carter just scored 26 goals in 48 regular season games and has found the back of the net 14 times in the last two postseasons.

The Flyers lavished huge contracts on two superstars and quickly traded those guys for a headcase they had to buy out with the aid of magic wand that didn't exist when they originally made the deals. If that is not the plainest example of an organization that's lost its way, then what is?

Whatever excuses you may or may not have heard to justify their exit separate from the now-failed search to find a goaltender do not hold water. Here are three of them just to prove a point:

  • Richards and Carter aren't "the guys" in L.A. like they were in Philly -- Maybe not? But they play together on the same line in crunch time, with Richie even moving back to defense, because A) he needs to be on the ice B) he's versatile enough to do it and C) some combination of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are out there, too. And somehow GM Dean Lombardi has made those five players and goaltender Jonathan Quick fit under his salary cap. So not only did he take on the large contracts to which the Flyers signed Richards and Carter, but he was able to have enough other talent on the roster to win the Cup. Maybe they're not "the guys," but Carter just led the team in goal scoring, and L.A. is paying both them like they are. Somebody thinks they're worth having around, and with good reason.
  • The Flyers got back greater value -- This is unknowable at the moment. Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier certainly look promising and Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are already very valuable commodities, but the Flyers traded a young core that had already been to a Stanley Cup Final for an even younger core. They are still without a Stanley Cup and one does not appear imminent even with all their young, talented forwards, which they always seem to have anyway.
  • Richards and Carter were too involved with off-ice antics -- It's doubtful Dry Island exists in L.A., especially if we're judging by this picture, via Puck Daddy:

4. They Flyers still don't have a No. 1 goalie
There are reasons to be optimistic about Steve Mason. It was a small sample size, but in seven games, he posted a 1.90 GAA and .944 save percentage behind a Flyers defense commonly considered poor, the same defense Bryzgalov (2.79, .900) played behind.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he's big. Big is good. And this is the same guy who once won the Calder Trophy before regressing on a bad team. There are guys who just need a change of scenery sometimes. The Flyers have traded away a few of them.

But does the front office think Mason is the answer? No.

If they did, they wouldn't have tried to trade for Jonathan Bernier, who is young and potentially promising, but also unproven. Had that trade worked out, the Flyers would have two goalies and it wouldn't have been immediately clear who was backing up whom, unless the organization gave Bernier a large, new contract -- which alone would not have prevented another potential goalie controversy.

As it is, the Flyers have one goalie. And as was just established, they aren't so sold on him as to think they don't need to trade for or sign someone else, who will likely compete with Mason for the starting gig.

As for the future, if the next words out of your mouth are "Anthony Stolarz" ...  There was once a time this team signed John Vanbiesbrouck over Mike Richter and Curtis Joseph because Brian Boucher and Jean Marc Pelletier were waiting in the wings. Pelletier didn't pan out, and Boucher was eventually traded for Robert Esche less than two years after his stellar rookie season. Prospects are prospects.

That's all aside from the fact that the Flyers' track record with young talent -- be they goaltenders, forwards or defensemen -- leaves little room for confidence. How many times have you had a conversation about the team giving up on someone "too quickly?"


5. They do not appear to have learned from their variety of mistakes
This has less to do with Bryzgalov and the goaltending situation, in specific, and more to do with the previously mentioned lack of direction and foresight, in general.

Last summer, the Flyers decided $5.5 million over each of the next six seasons was too much to pay for then-27-year-old Matt Carle. Even those of us who thought Carle was unfairly and overly criticized throughout his Flyers tenure conceded that amount of money was too high and based on how the free-agent market had shaped up to that point.

The flip-side is that puck-carrying defensemen are always expensive and that the Flyers, by letting Carle walk, no longer had one, aside from the aging Kimmo Timonen and the inexperienced Erik Gustafsson.

After missing the playoffs in a lockout-shortened year thanks to a variety issues -- including poor goaltending exacerbated by a shoddy and oft-injured defensive corps -- the Flyers decided to pay Mark Streit $5.25 million over the next four years.

Streit, 35, is seven years older than Carle. He turns the puck over at almost the exact same rate, is marginally better offensively.

Streit, by the way, is now making the same amount of money per season as Jeff Carter.

Put everything together and the Flyers are right back to where they started, with a promising group of young forwards, a question mark in goal, and more regrets about leaders they lost too soon to injury (Lindros, Primeau, Pronger).

I am not saying anyone should be fired for all of this. I'm saying general managers have been fired for less than this.

Sixers use 3-ball to get past Bucks' frontcourt length

Sixers use 3-ball to get past Bucks' frontcourt length

One of the ways teams have attacked the Milwaukee Bucks this season is by hoisting up a large number of three-point attempts. 

So it wasn’t alarming to Sixers coach Brett Brown that his team launched 37 shots from beyond the arc in the Sixers' 113-104 win over Milwaukee on Monday (see instant replay)

“I wanted more of them,” Brown said. 

The Bucks entered Monday tied for fourth in opponent three-point attempts and makes. Teams are averaging 10.3 made triples on 29.1 attempts against Milwaukee.

This has a lot to do with the length of the Bucks, which allow the ninth fewest points in the paint and are tied for 11th in blocked shots. 

“When you look at how they play, I think they are the seventh ranked defense in the NBA, they are so long,” Brown said. “As we studied them and put forth a scouting report and instructions, we wanted everybody to take two steps further back as a starting point to create space for Joel (Embiid) and Jahlil (Okafor).

“Then you can hug the line or you can step into the line. We really wanted to promote steppers because of their length.” 

Four of Milwaukee’s last five opponents have attempted at least 30 threes, and the Bucks have allowed at least 10 made threes in each of their last seven games. 

The Sixers, which have hoisted at least 30 three-point attempts in 22 of 39 games, kept up the trend.

“Every team we play shoots threes,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “At some point, we have to understand what the three means to us as a team if we want to win. We can talk about it but if there's no effort in guarding it and understanding, again, it starts with effort. If we don't give it, we're going to give up a lot of threes.”

The Sixers scored 18 of its 24 first-quarter points on three-pointers, making 6 of 13 attempts.

The only quarter the Sixers were beat from the three-point line was also the only quarter they were outscored Monday. Four of Milwaukee’s five made three-pointers came in the second quarter, while the Sixers were just 2 of 8. 

In the decisive second half in which the Sixers outscored the Bucks, 67-50, they hit six threes and allowed just one. 

“We knew how they are defending,” Sixers guard Sergio Rodriguez said. “They are a team with a lot of length, so it is hard to drive and get to the basket. They try to press and steal and are aggressive, so if we break the first line it is easier to shoot threes and find people open. That’s what we did, especially in the second half.”

While the Sixers shot just 37.8 percent from long range, they outscored the Bucks by 27 points on three-pointers. 

Eight different players hit threes for the Sixers with Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Nik Stauskas, Gerald Henderson, Chasson Randle and Dario Saric all hitting a pair. 

Jahlil Okafor was the only Sixers player to see the floor and not attempt a shot from beyond the arc.

“We needed to spread it out and we knew we needed to shoot a lot of threes,” Brown said. “We wanted to encourage it. I think it was a significant reason we were able to have 67 points in the second half.”

Okafor stays ready
Up until roughly 30 minutes before tipoff, Okafor was not expecting to play Monday. 

Nerlens Noel was set to backup Joel Embiid at center until a sprained left ankle left him a pregame scratch, which meant Okafor got the call. 

“You have to mentally get ready,” Okafor said. “I just had to get loose as quick as I could. I have been working extremely hard to stay prepared in case something like this happens.” 

Okafor finished with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting in 20 minutes, helping the Sixers' reserves outscore Milwaukee’s bench, 52-34. 

“To go to Jahlil Okafor before the game and say, ‘I’m not going to go with you, I’m going to go with Nerlens,’ and then two minutes before warm ups go, ‘Whoops, it looks like you are in,’ he didn’t flinch,” Brown said. “I thought he played hard and played well. He was a really big part of the reason we won tonight.

“His attitude continues to blow me away given his age and what he is going through.”   

Instant Replay: Sixers 113, Bucks 104

Instant Replay: Sixers 113, Bucks 104

BOX SCORE 

The tone was set in the opening minutes of the third quarter. 

The Sixers quickly made up a halftime deficit and rolled from there, outscoring the Bucks, 67-50, in the second half for a 113-104 victory over Milwaukee on Monday.

The Sixers have now won four of their last five games with their only loss in the stretch coming the game Joel Embiid sat out. 

Milwaukee used a 19-4 run to take a 54-44 lead, but the Sixers scored the final basket of the first half and the first eight points of the third quarter to tie the game. 

Embiid scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 22 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high tying five blocked shots.

Inside the box score
• The Sixers scored 18 of their 24 first-quarter points from the 3-point line, connecting on 6 of 13 attempts from beyond the arc. Philadelphia hit on 14 of 37 three-point attempts, while Milwaukee was just 5 for 14. 

• Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in the first half, but battled foul trouble after the break and finished with 23 points for the game. He picked up his fourth foul with 6:04 left in the third quarter and was whistled for his fifth foul just 38 seconds into the fourth quarter. 

• Eight Sixers scored in double figures, led by Embiid with 22. Dario Saric added 17, Ersan Ilyasova scored 12, Gerald Henderson and Robert Covington had 11 and Sergio Rodriguez, Jahlil Okafor and Chasson Randle each added 10. 

McConnell MRI negative
The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and did not play against the Bucks (see story).
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”

Sergio Rodriguez started in McConnell’s place and scored 10 points with seven rebounds and six assists. 

Monster jam
Embiid threw down a thunderous dunk to give the Sixers a 77-76 lead with 1:00 left in the third quarter. He then forced a turnover on the other end and later blocked a shot attempt by Matthew Dellavedova at the third-quarter buzzer. 

Noel sits
Sixers center Nerlens Noel was a late scratch from Monday’s game due to a sprained left ankle. 

Up Next
The Sixers will host Toronto (27-13) on Wednesday and Portland (18-25) on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center before traveling to Atlanta to face the Hawks (24-17) on Saturday.