There has been talk of using a compliance buyout on Ilya’s Bryzgalov since the term entered the NHL lexicon. According to Tim Panaccio’s sources, that option may be close to becoming a reality.
According to a report filed by Panotch on Friday, the Flyers’ are indeed weighing whether or not to use the amnesty clause on Bryz this summer. Ed Snider had previously endorsed the controversial netminder, but when asked for comment on this story, the club chairman simply replied, “Ask Paul [Holmgren].”
Bryzgalov, who turns 33 this month, is coming off of his worst season in the NHL, posting a .900 save percentage and 2.79 goals against average. While porous defense in front of Bryz was partly to blame for the awful numbers in 2013, critics feel his play was a big part of the problem as well, and he has been generally lackluster since arriving two years ago.
While the Flyers would still owe in excess of $22 million on his contract, the team would save $5.67 million per year over the next seven against the salary cap with the buyout.
Of course, a sizable chunk of that money would wind up going right back into paying another goaltender to replace Bryz. According to Panotch, the front office could target either the Niklas Backstrom, unrestricted free agent from the Wild, or LA Kings backup and restricted FA Jonathan Bernier.
Backstrom, 35, was earning $6 million per year on his expiring deal. They could trade for his rights and try to sign him to a contract before he hits the market, just as they did with Mark Streit. It's unclear whether he solves the Flyers’ problems though, other than allowing the franchise to get out from under Bryzgalov’s enormous contract. Backstrom is on the downside of his career, and unless he’s available at a significant discount, that seems like throwing good money after bad.
The Wild have expressed an interest in retaining Backstrom, who likewise admitted he hopes to stay in Minnesota, perhaps taking that possibility off the table.
If the Flyers went after Bernier, they might have to strike a deal with the Kings. Panotch suggests a package of Matt Read and more might land Jonathan Quick’s understudy, and the soon-to-be-25-year-old could be in line for a contract commensurate of a starter. Bernier has posted solid numbers in 62 career NHL games, going 29-20-6 with a .912 SV% and 2.36 GAA.
Los Angeles will certainly listen to suitors, but the price in both trade and contract could be steep for a player who’s never had to hold down a starting job. Meanwhile, the intriguing Steve Mason (25) is already on the Flyers’ roster, and 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz (19) has been tearing it up in the OHL. Trading quality players and/or prospects and making a long-term commitment to a somewhat unproven goalie may not be the wisest strategy right this moment.
One reason Panotch gave for the possible change of heart among Flyers’ brass is a growing belief Bryz may want out. He doesn’t have the full support of his teammates, frequently battles the local media, and recently made comments in Russia that garnered negative attention back in Philly.
Of course, why wouldn’t Bryzgalov want his contract bought out? He’s a competitor, so he’d presumably welcome the opportunity to finish what he started here, but if the Flyers go for amnesty, he’ll still see two-thirds of the money from his current contract, plus have the freedom to go out and collect a second paycheck somewhere else.
A final decision has yet to be reached, but until Holmgren says otherwise, we are being led to believe the organization is actually considering this. If Bryz’s presence is really viewed as being that destructive, then it makes perfect sense.
If it’s just a play to save a couple million against the cap while attempting to improve the situation in goal, they might be better served by waiting. The Flyers can get another year out of Bryzgalov and see whether or not he returns to form, then use a buyout next year if they like. In turn, that would give them more time to evaluate Mason and develop Stolarz without getting locked into a contract with another goalie.
What the Flyerrs will decide is anybody’s guess at this point. One league executive told Panoccio he would not be surprised either way. Will you?