Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Beyond missing the playoffs and having some obvious needs to
fill, the Flyers have a problem. The salary cap is set to decrease from $70.2
million to $64.3 once the new league year begins, and according to one
projection, as of today they would be over the threshold by about $3 mil.

It should be noted that this is only an estimate. Capgeek’s
current numbers
are showing some two-way contracts for young players who
finished this season in Philly, but may or in some cases are likely to be back
with Adirondack come October. There will also be some additional relief once Chris
Pronger (and just a guess, but perhaps Max Talbot as well) is placed on
long-term injured reserve, although that will be minimal.

Of course Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen are both
restricted free agents who will re-sign, both of whom have earned the
opportunity to compete for a spot on the club next season if one is not already assured. The team may also be
interested in bringing back Simon Gagne at a reduced figure, as well as one or
two other unrestricted free agents – Ruslan Fedotenko, Adam Hall, or Kent
Huskins possibly?

The main point is the Flyers are already up against next year’s cap. That’s where compliance buyouts come in.

To the uninitiated, the buyouts – commonly referred to
as amnesty – were put in place with the new collective bargaining agreement to
assist teams in getting below the reduced cap. Sarah Baicker shares the details,
but in brief NHL teams have a total of two buyouts to be used over the next two
offseasons, and those players will no longer be counted toward the payroll.

Due to the nature of their finances, the Flyers basically must use one this offseason, and in my
opinion, it’s a no-brainer.

Victim No. 1

While Danny Briere is great in the locker room, great during
the playoffs, and seemingly a great guy, the organization has to move on this
summer. His $6.5 million cap hit is easily the largest on the team, and the
production nowhere near matches that any longer. One way or another, his departure is very much expected at this stage.

Briere was a complete non-factor this season, scoring six
goals and 10 assists with a -13 in 34 games. His 6.9 shot percentage was less
than half its career mark (14.4). Yes, he battled a wrist injury at the
beginning of the year and later missed time with a concussion, but the writing
was on the wall already last season when Briere posted 49 points in 70 games
with a 9.2 shot percentage, among the lowest totals in his career.

Fan favorite or not, Briere will turn 36 before next season
begins, so even if he rebounds somewhat the expectation is his best days are behind him.
It makes sense from a business standpoint as well – the team still has to pay
two-thirds of an amnestied player’s contract, but Briere only has two years
left on his deal anyway, so it’s not an excessive amount of money the
organization would be “throwing away” so to speak.

The Flyers could also attempt to trade Briere if he agreed, perhaps to a team that could use his salary to boost their payroll above the floor and could use some veteran leadership, or one searching for the final piece. Either way, the fact is his $6.5 million would give Philly's front
office some breathing room this summer, even a little money to play with, while based on what he’s done over the past
two seasons and in 2013 in particular they wouldn’t lose too much production on
the ice. It’s a little sad, but it’s Briere’s time.

Not so fast…

On the other hand, while using a buyout on
Ilya Bryzgalov merits consideration, I would hold off on that for another year at least. Bryz’s
$5.67 million cap hit by itself is not outlandish – that currently ranks ninth
among NHL goaltenders for the upcoming 2013-14 season – not to mention getting
rid of him puts the Flyers right back in the same bind the franchise has been
in seemingly forever.

Yes, Bryzgalov’s numbers were abysmal this year. He managed
to post a .900 save percentage to go with an ugly 2.79 goals against average,
the latter being among the worst in the league. Yet simply looking at statistics
doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of the season, defensive breakdowns plus
ill-timed turnovers left Bryz hanging out to dry, often numerous times per
game. And while he’s not alone in being overworked this season, and some
goalies handled it better than others, overusage couldn’t have helped.

The debate basically hinges on whether or not he is a good netminder,
and while many Flyers fans think no, it’s not necessarily a view shared around
hockey. He’s previously been named an All Star and has finished as runner-up for the
Vezina Trophy. It was even reported recently that Bryz will be Russia’s number
one goalie in the World Championships, ahead of… Sergei Bobrovsky.

It’s not about whether he can play or not – he can, at least
in the right situation. The real issue is contractual. While Bryzgalov’s salary
is not out of line with what veteran starting goaltenders are paid around the
league, the fact that his contract lasts until he turns 40 is a bit unsettling,
especially given how things have gone so far.

Of course, that’s another reason why the organization might
want to wait. While the contract comes off the books as far as the salary cap
is concerned, the Flyers still have to pay two-thirds of $34.5
million they owe Bryzgalov on the last seven years of his deal. Do the math. That’s a lot of
cash to pay somebody to go away.

They might as well keep Bryz for another year and give
him one more chance to prove himself, because even if they did use amnesty,
what are the Flyers going to do in goal? Steve Mason’s numbers for his entire
career are just as bad as what Bryzgalov posted this one season, and unless
they went out and paid another number one goaltender they will be right back in
the mess that landed the cosmonaut in Philly in the first place – a goalie
carousel.

Let Bryzgalov battle it out for Mason for a full season, let 2012
second-round prospect Anthony Stolarz develop for another season at the lower levels,
and make a determination next offseason. What’s the rush to give Bryz the boot?

Previously: Step One: Don't Panic Over a Shortened Season

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Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).