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

Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)
May 1, 2013, 10:10 am
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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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