What a difference two years make. Two years ago the Flyers were excitedly introducing Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia. Paul Holmgren touted Bryz as an upper-echelon goaltender. Ed Snider hoped this was the final piece.
Two years later, on a Tuesday afternoon, the Flyers quietly announced Bryzgalov has played his final game in Orange & Black. The team has opted to use the second of its two compliance buyouts on the controversial netminder, terminating the remaining seven years of his nine-year, $51 million contract.
Bryzgalov’s cap figure of $5.67M is erased from the ledger immediately when the transaction becomes official late Wednesday evening. However, they still must pay the goalie two-thirds of his remaining salary over a period of 14 years, a sum in excess of $23 million.
“I met with Ilya this morning and informed him that we are going to exercise a compliance buy out of his contract,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “This was a very difficult business decision to make for us and we want to thank Ilya for his time here and wish him all the best moving forward.”
Many followers will find the buyout to be a long time coming. When it was revealed the new collective bargaining agreement would contain an amnesty clause to help teams get under the shrinking salary cap, Bryzgalov’s deal was an obvious candidate. Bryz would have been turning 40 as the contract expired.
His performance on the ice didn’t smooth matters over any. His first season was considered a disappointment, save for a run in which he became the franchise’s all-time leader in consecutive shutout minutes. 2013 was worse yet, as he posted a 19-17-3 record, .900 save percentage, and 2.79 goals against average.
And still, the insane contract and subpar numbers may have been merely contributing factors to Bryzgalov’s demise. His recent comments denigrating the city of Philadelphia and its people alone would have made him a tough sell to many fans. There seemed to be a divide inside the dressing room as well, perhaps making a return impossible.
That may be the easiest way to justify the Flyers’ decision on the matter, because with Bryz gone the club is suddenly in need of another goaltender. They have Steve Mason, but he had been a suspect performer in Columbus since his rookie year in 08-09. 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz could be at least a year away from playing in the NHL.
The front office now must pick through free agency or find a suitable trade to replace Bryzgalov, when they could have held on to him for another year and used the buyout next summer. While he received a large amount of criticism for his play, the reality is the shaky defense in front of him made it hard to judge exactly how much he factored into their problems.
Had the organization held on to him though, they ran the risk of Bryz getting injured and not being able amnesty him when the time came. Plus, the Flyers were over the cap even after Danny Briere’s buyout, so the extra money grants the front office additional flexibility. They still have to extend a qualifying offer to Erik Gustafsson, and may be interested in re-signing Simon Gagne at a potential hometown discount, among other moves.
Whether it was coming this year or next, amnestying Bryzgalov was inevitable barring an extreme turnaround in his play. Given what we saw for one month in 2012, such a change wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. Even still, his contract was always going to be a burden in the future.
It’s possible Bryzgalov never really got a fair shake here. It’s probable he is the head case many in the media had portrayed since his arrival. When everything is said and done, Bryz made too many enemies across the board, his contract was a mistake, and he didn’t get the job done – all of which conspired to seal his fate in Philly.