For months, Ilya Bryzgalov has acted like an athlete who didn't particularly want to stay in Philadelphia.
And now, he won't have to.
The Flyers on Tuesday announced they will buy out Ilya Bryzgalov's contract. What remains of the goaltender's nine year, $51 million deal will be officially off the team's books Wednesday night.
According to NHL salary information site CapGeek.com, it is the largest buyout in NHL history.
“It was a very difficult business decision to make," general manager Paul Holmgren said of buying out Bryzgalov. "But moving forward, it makes the most sense for us to start looking down the road to trying to keep other players in the fold, like Claude Giroux."
Giroux is slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Bryzgalov had $34.5 million remaining on his contract. The Flyers will pay the 33-year-old goalie 2/3 of his remaining salary ($23 million) over a 14-year period to not play for them, amounting to about $1.63 million annually.
“It’s a costly mistake we made," Holmgren said. "Ilya, it’s hard to fault him. I think he played pretty good. In the salary cap world, you need to make decisions time to time that put you in a better light moving forward."
The Flyers signed Bryzgalov in 2011, as part of the complete-team summer makeover that saw Jeff Carter and Mike Richards depart for the Western Conference. He was supposed to be the cure to the Flyers' longstanding struggles in net; he was brought in, in great part, to make sure the so-called "goaltender carousel" the Flyers had during the previous two playoff stints didn't happen again.
Instead, Bryzgalov had a mediocre two-year career as a Flyer, finishing with a 2.79 goals-against average (down from the 2.48 GAA he had in his first year here). What really made headlines, however, were his off-ice antics and contentious relationship with the media.
On locker clean-out day, Bryzgalov declined to answer questions about whether he wanted to return to Philadelphia, practically telling reporters then that he didn't care what happened regarding a buyout. He told others during the World Championships that he didn't even like the city. It was comments like those that led to plenty of rumors and reports of Bryzgalov's being a divisive presence in the Flyers' locker room.
“I'm not in the room," Holmgren said. "None of us are. I think Ilya is a colorful guy. Does he say things sometimes out of the blue? Absolutely. I don’t think he is any different from other players I’ve been associated with. I didn’t have an issue with that."
"The dressing room stuff did not matter," Flyers president Peter Luukko said, echoing Holmgren's assertion that this was strictly a business move on the club's part.
Nonetheless, the Flyers took their time deciding whether to exercise their final compliance buyout on their starting goaltender. In response to statements from Bryzgalov's agent, Ritch Winter, last week that the Flyers weren't planning to buy out his client, Holmgren said he didn't assure Winter "one way or the other" about Bryzgalov's future.
The question now is who the Flyers will bring in to tend net alongside Steve Mason, the young netminder they acquired ahead of the trade deadline earlier this year. Mason played in just seven games for the Flyers at the end of last season, but Holmgren is confident the 24-year-old can take on a substantial amount of team's goaltending needs next year.
“I'm a big Steve Mason fan," Holmgren said. "Moving forward, he is a very good young goalie in our league for his age, has a lot of experience. It was short window watching him here, but he played well, even in the game he lost. Ideally, I’d like to get a guy who will work in tandem with him with the bulk going to Steve. I trust him as of the two goalies."
As part of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, each team in the league was awarded two amnesty buyouts that could be used by summer 2014. The Flyers made official their plans to buy out forward Danny Briere last week.