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.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

CLEVELAND -- Barkevious Mingo never really fit in with the Browns.

The Patriots will try to find an ideal spot for him.

A major disappointment in Cleveland, Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft was traded to New England on Thursday.

The Browns received a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft for the linebacker.

Mingo, a former LSU standout, has recorded just seven sacks in three seasons and spent much of last season on special teams.

Mingo's size -- 6-foot-4, 240 pounds -- and speed have made him intriguing, but Cleveland's coaching staff couldn't find the best way to utilize him. The Browns moved the 25-year-old Mingo from outside linebacker to inside earlier this summer.

Cleveland declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Mingo's rookie contract in May. With the trade of Mingo, left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert are the only first-round selections by Cleveland from 2007 to 2014 that are still with the team (see full story).

NFL: Harrison, Matthews and Peppers talk with PED investigators
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Green Bay Packers defensive players Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers met this week with NFL investigators looking into allegations linking them to performance-enhancing drugs, the players' union said Thursday.

Matthews and Peppers met with league representatives on Wednesday, while Harrison did so on Thursday, according to the NFL Players Association.

Last week, the league threatened Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and free agent Mike Neal with indefinite suspensions if they did not meet with investigators. All of them were mentioned in an Al-Jazeera television interview with Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic. In the December report, Sly made claims of PED use by several athletes, including Harrison, Peyton Manning and the three others, but later recanted his claims.

The since-retired Manning was cleared after a separate NFL investigation in which he granted interviews and provided all records sought by league investigators.

The league's deadline for cooperation from the four current players was Thursday. The NFL first notified the four on Jan. 11 about the investigation into the Al-Jazeera report (see full story).

Dolphins: Team intensifies efforts for Zika control at stadium
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins say they've intensified mosquito-control treatments at their stadiums because of the Zika virus.

The Dolphins' stadium is more than 10 miles from the nearest area of the virus outbreak. Even so, the Dolphins say they decided weeks ago to undertake additional treatments as a precaution.

Construction workers are at the site daily completing the latest phase in a $500 million renovation. The first home preseason game is next Thursday against Tennessee.

The Marlins and Miami-Dade County have stepped up spraying in and around Marlins Park "in an abundance of caution," team president David Samson said Thursday. Treatments targeting the mosquito that transmits Zika are being used even though the Marlins play most of their home games indoors under a retractable roof.

Marlins Park is about 2 miles from the nearest area of virus outbreak.

Treatments at the 265-acre Dolphins stadium site include the parking lot and follow recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those treatments are expected to continue through the football season and beyond.

Vikings: New stadium sells out for inaugural season
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have sold out their new stadium for the inaugural season.

The team announced on Thursday that they've started waiting lists for tickets and suites. The official capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium will be 66,655, with more than 60,400 seats committed for the entire season and the remaining single-game seats also sold out.

Returned tickets from visiting team allotments typically make a small number of seats available the week of each game.

The Vikings host San Diego on Sunday in an exhibition game, their first action at the $1.1 billion venue. The regular-season opener is on Sept. 18 against rival Green Bay.