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.

TRADING AHEAD OF THE MARKET
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.

BRYZ'S BIO IN BRIEF
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.

WHAT ABOUT BOB (AND THE '10-'11 FLYERS "DEPTH")?
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.

WHAT'S NEXT?
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.

Temple's Trey Lowe to redshirt as recovery from car accident continues

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Temple's Trey Lowe to redshirt as recovery from car accident continues

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy had a feeling some bad news would come regarding guard Trey Lowe's status for the coming season. On Friday, it was made official.

Lowe, a freshman who suffered serious upper-body injuries in a single-car crash in his native New Jersey last February, will miss all of the 2016-17 season and take a medical redshirt as he continues to recover, Dunphy announced on Friday.

"We all feel that this is in the best interest for Trey, as a person, a basketball player and a student," Dunphy said in a statement released by the university. "We feel at this time that concentrating on his rehabilitation this year will give him the best chance to come back strong and healthy for 2017-18. Trey will still be a big part of the team during this redshirt year, while continuing to work with our medical and strength team in preparation for his full return to action.”

Lowe was just starting to come into his own at the collegiate level around the time of the unfortunate accident. In a Feb. 17 game at the Liacouras Center against then-No.1 and eventual national champion Villanova, Lowe dropped a career-high 21 points. Though the Owls lost, 83-67, Lowe had made an impact and earned the trust of Dunphy, which isn't easy to do as a freshman.

A three-star recruit, Lowe played in all 28 games, including five starts, prior to his injury and averaged 4.8 points and 1.8 assists in 12.3 minutes per game. He would be a redshirt sophomore if he's ready to return for the 2017-18 season.

The absence of Lowe will leave the Owls particularly thin at guard this year. You may recall senior point guard Josh Brown, who was to be counted on as the Owls' leader this season, tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. His status for this season is still unknown as he continues to rehab from his injury.

Junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 11 points per game last season, is Temple's leading returning scorer.

The onus to produce at guard will be placed on redshirt senior Daniel Dingle and sophomore Shizz Alston, Jr. True freshmen Quinton Rose and Alani Moore will also likely have to chip in.

They have just over a month to get ready. Temple hosts La Salle in both schools' season opener on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Liacouras Center.

Sixers' Ben Simmons suffers fractured bone in right foot

Sixers' Ben Simmons suffers fractured bone in right foot

As the Sixers get two bigs back from injury, another goes down.

First overall pick Ben Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot on Friday. Simmons rolled his right ankle during the team’s final training camp scrimmage at Stockton University.

Simmons underwent an X-ray and MRI on his right foot and ankle. Sixers head physician Dr. Christopher Dodson and Sixers chief medical officer and co-chief of sports medicine orthopedics at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow reviewed the images.

Simmons’ timetable to return is to be determined. The Sixers are considering further medical evaluation and treatment options. 

Landing the number one pick and selecting Simmons was the highlight of the Sixers’ next chapter. They were supposed to be healthy this time around as they entered a new phase following a 10-72 season. 

The news of the fracture adds to years of injury-related setbacks. Nerlens Noel missed his entire rookie season rehabbing from an ACL injury. After undergoing two foot injuries in as many years, the 2014 third overall pick Joel Embiid is slated to make his NBA debut Oct. 4 against the Celtics in preseason action. Jahlil Okafor is also expected to play next Tuesday for the first time since his season-ending knee surgery in March. 

The Sixers drafted Simmons to become a focal point of their system. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, he is a point-forward with the potential to change the look of a lineup. During training camp Brown experimented with multiple combinations, including playing Simmons at the point, shooting guard and small forward. 

Brown called the two-three combination of Simmons and Dario Saric “6-10, do-alls” (see story)

Simmons, 20, impressed his teammates during camp. In just four days of practices, it was easy for them to see how Simmons would improve the Sixers. 

“He’s really physical,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s just a big presence. When he pushes the ball, you can feel it. He makes you want to go with him. … He’s so fast and he’s so big.” 

Said Nerlens Noel, “He just plays basketball the right way. When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."

The Sixers will be faced with filling a role they haven’t actually had yet. They had gameplans of how to utilize Simmons, but they were implemented only in training camp. The Sixers have a frontcourt logjam which will allow them to plug in other players at the power forward spot. They also can fill his experimented role on the wings with traditional shooters. But his absence will eliminate versatile lineups in which players are essentially “positionless,” a Warriors-style of play that causes mismatches of size and skills. 

Even though the Sixers have an abundance of bigs, Embiid and Okafor will be monitored for minutes at the start of the season. Throw in Simmons’ injury and this creates opportunities for other frontcourt players such as Richaun Holmes and Elton Brand. With Simmons absence, there also could be more minutes for Saric to play his natural position at power forward. 

Simmons wasn’t letting himself get too far ahead as he entered his first NBA season. He has been taking each day one at a time with an excitement of the newness of his rookie year.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” Simmons said on Media Day. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”

Now it remains to be seen when Simmons will play his first game.