Flyers' Goal Is Signing Bryzgalov, But It May Not Be Easy

Flyers' Goal Is Signing Bryzgalov, But It May Not Be Easy

On Tuesday night, the Flyers opened the NHL off-season early, trading for the rights to free-agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov. The final horn on the 2010-2011 season hasn't even sounded, with the Stanley Cup Finals still very much underway, but that didn't stop GM Paul Holmgren from getting started.

Below, we'll take a look at some of the Flyers precedent moves ahead of free agency opening, the career to date of Bryzgalov, and the presumably tough road that faces the Flyers if they want to actually sign him.

The move to acquire Bryzgalov's rights may have surprised most fans and media alike, but it's not out of character for Homer and the Flyers to try to jump the market. The team successfully signed both Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell (retro link!) after trading for their rights in June of 2007. More recently, they acquired the rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis and received permission to negotiate with goalie Evgeni Nabokov last off-season. Both sets of free agents are a good lesson in the wide spectrum of what could happen with Bryzgalov. While Timonen and Hartnell are Flyers, Hamhuis' rights were flipped to Pittsburgh for a draft pick after the Flyers couldn't sign him (nor could the Penguins, who got nothing in return), and Nabokov chose to head to Russia before ultimately winding up a New York Islander via a path too long to describe here. Long story short, the Flyers' two most recent attempts at getting ahead of the market to land a targeted player resulted in little more than a lot of wasted ink and keystrokes.

That's not to say the same will happen with Bryzgalov, of course. The goalie is most certainly looking for his next hockey home, and the Flyers should be an attractive landing place if the money and duration of contract are right (a big if, but we'll get to that later).

However, the Flyers won't be able to pull the trigger on an offer right away. Frank Seravalli points out that they can't make a deal until the new salary cap is announced unless they make a trade. Even after the new cap is announced, they will likely need to move salary if they intend to accommodate the cap hit of the market's top available goalie. Plus, as we learned last season after poring over the Hamhuis and Nabokov possibilities, the Flyers may not be willing or able to offer a desirable enough deal, either because the free agent wants more money, or simply wants to play elsewhere.

On Tuesday night, Holmgren said that he had not yet spoken to Bryzgalov's agent, Ritch Winter. But, the GM also gave every indication that the team acquired his rights with the intention of signing him, not just kicking the tires ahead of the rest of the league joining the shopping spree.

While most hockey enthusiasts will know quite a bit about the NHL veteran by now, playing in the Western Conference for his entire career has kept him off the radar for many as well. Most of us know what we've read far more than what we've actually seen. Bryzgalov has represented his native Russia in numerous international competitions, including the World Juniors, World Championship, and the Olympics, notching a Bronze in the competition while not actually appearing in any games, and a gold in 2009 World Championships with an impressive run. Bryzgalov began his NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks (they were "Mighty" then) after being selected in the second round of the 2000 entry draft. In Anaheim, he faced a difficult depth chart that included JS Giguere, Martin Gerber, and finally Jonas Hiller, but he was ultimately a part of a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2007. Giguere was the club's starter though, and also the recipient of a new contract. The Ducks were unable to work a deal to move Bryzgalov, and he was waived early in the 2007-2008 season, then claimed by Phoenix, where he's been since.

His career NHL numbers include a 2.53 GAA and a .916 save percentage, as well as a record of 156-116-35. [Video highlights here]

Bryzgalov garnered recognition as a stud goaltender in his second full season with the Coyotes (2009-2010), posting 42 wins, a 2.29 GAA, and a .920 save percentage. With the franchise faltering at nearly every level, their goaltender was a major factor in leading them to the playoffs in a tough division and was the runner up in Vezina Trophy voting for the league's top goalie.

However, neither of his two playoff campaigns with the Coyotes—both against the Detroit Red Wings—were what you would call stellar, including an 0-4, 4.36, .879 mark in 2011.

Therein lies one of the concerns many Flyers fans will have. Getting to the postseason is rarely this team's problem.

Bryzgalov will begin the season at the age of 31, presumably right within the prime of a goaltender's career with a handful of high-caliber seasons ahead of him. As such, he'll want and will likely command a long-term deal north of $5 million or even $6 million per season after pulling in $4.25 million in the final year of his Coyotes deal. If Sergei Bobrovsky's the goalie of the future for this franchise, I hope he's learned a lot from Kevin Kolb.

We'll probably get more into what this all means for Bob in a later post, possibly after the Flyers actually sign Bryzgalov, which is far from a forgone conclusion at this point. There's little reason to believe Bryzgalov would be a short-term answer or a bridge to Bob though. Why would he sign a 2- or even 3- year deal at the height of his value?

Last off-season, the Flyers were unable to land any of the big name goalies on the market, but that may have been in part due to their belief that they could build a strong enough team both offensively and defensively to support "good" goaltending—not necessarily a true #1 guy. Although goaltending wasn't the team's only problem during a second half collapse and a sweep out of the second round of the playoffs, the postseason carousel was ultimately a major issue, and also seemingly a source of embarrassment at the highest levels. Chairman Ed Snider, while on the one hand touting the prospects of Bobrovsky as a possible goalie of the future for the team, made it clear he wants an answer in net now as well.

If the Flyers can come to terms with Bryzgalov, it's hard to imagine there being a whole lot of room to also groom Bobrovsky. If there is, it would likely mean that Bryzgalov has either been injured or has faltered in his new surroundings, which would be a disaster. Bobrovsky is under the Flyers' control for now though, and Holmgren said the duo would be among the best tandems in the league if Bryz joins the Flyers, indicating that Bob wouldn't be headed to Adirondack for seasoning (although that could change, and holding a GM to the comments he gives reporters is foolhardy). Even if Bobrovsky does stay with the Flyers, it's highly unlikely the goaltending situation will resemble what we've seen in previous seasons, with the duties being traded off regularly throughout the season, and worse, the postseason.

Best-case scenario if Bryzgalov is signed, is the team completely reverses historical course and does have a dynamic tandem, with one guy starting a backup's share of games, and down the road, the team has flexibility with possibly moving a sought-after goalie for whatever needs it has at the time.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.

There's still a lot that needs to happen before any possible deal can fully be evaluated. If and when Bryzgalov signs, there will not likely be total agreement on the part of the fans as to whether it was the best move, at least not before any games are played. Even if the NHL's cap raises to the levels most assume it will, the
Flyers will still be tight on space to retain anything resembling the full complement of their current roster.
Brian Boucher didn't quite make $5mil+ a season.

A player or, more likely, several players will either not be re-signed (perhaps Ville Leino) and/or traded in order to accommodate the cap hit. This would signal a marked change in the Flyers philosophy from last off-season, and despite the fact that two studs are opposing each other in this year's Finals, there are plenty of examples of teams making sacrifices to land a top goalie and still not getting over the hump, while relative unknowns hoist the Cup.

Then again, it's hard to argue that a well-balanced team with a top-tier goaltender is a bad way to go after it. The questions now are, is Bryzgalov truly a top-tier guy, can the Flyers get him to sign, and will the sacrifice in depth be worth it?

We'll look into each of those as news arises on the Bryzgalov front. Until then, we're all ears for your opinions.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).