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4:51 PM
ESPN Insider's Take on Bryzgalov


I might act tough but I am still reeling this morning from the Flyers Stanley Cup Playoff loss last night. The Philadelphia Flyers, for those in the know, are just about the only Philadelphia Sports team that I like to watch. Sure, I've had my flirtations with the Phillies over the years, and, admittedly, they've always treated me like a good lover should. It just isn't the same. Going from the Red Sox to the Phillies is like eating the finest fillet Mignon... Then chowing down on a McDonald's Angus burger the next day. Sure, it's still technically "steak," but it's no filet, hell, it's not even an Omaha Steak.

With all that said, I said I was prepared for the Flyers loss, I even dealt with it well in the moment, but this morning I really started to feel the reality that they were gone. I'll ride and die with the Los Angeles Kings now, my team away from team, but the fresh wounds of another Flyers collapse are there and I'll carry them until the 2012-13 season.

So what happened in the Flyers second round stumble against the New Jersey Devils? Simply put, the defense and the goaltending have sucked. That shouldn't come as a big surprise for most fans but I've been getting the impression from some that they just don't want to believe this reality. "No, it wasn't Bryzgalov's fault! Look at the defense, they aren't doing anything!" Somewhat true, for sure. "It wasn't the defenses' fault, a good goaltender should be able to stop those shots either way." Also true. Both sides of this argument have a point but I have always firmly landed on the side of the Bryzgalov sucks debate. You can't polish a turd and call it a diamond, and Ilya Bryzgalov has never been close to a diamond. Bryz, historically, has not put up numbers and performances consistent of an Elite Level NHL Goaltender. That's just a fact. There was no proper justification for the ridiculous 9-year, $51 Million contract they gave him after acquiring him from Phoenix in the offseason. We are stuck with this guy, save the miracle of an amnesty clause, and for 8 more seasons, we are doomed to the worst night of the year, over and over again, as Bryzgalov finds new ways to blow the game in some sick Groundhog Day experiment with my fractured sports psyche.

Anyways, the basis for this is that many people have disagreed with me, that Bryzgalov has been good, he's not the problem, and he deserves at least another season to prove himself. I've always disputed this and quoted the facts but have been entirely too lazy to look up the numbers and supporting evidence to entrench my point. Enter this article, by ESPN Hockey Insider Timo Seppa, highlighting the historically bad playoff appearance and drain of a contract that Bryzgalov is now the poster boy for.

"On some level, it was the right idea.

The Philadelphia Flyers had gone as far as Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals while spending the fifth-lowest percentage of their cap hit on goaltending. They followed up that Cinderella playoff run with a strong regular season showing in 2010-11, finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 106 points, before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the second round -- this time spending the seventh lowest percentage-wise on goaltending.

While pinching pennies between the pipes by employing a cast of journeymen, backups, retreads and rookies like Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery and Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia outclassed the opposition everywhere else on the ice with a vast array of talent, including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, supplemented by plenty of quality depth.

Philadelphia appeared to be one tantalizing piece away from being a top Cup contender. Clearly, the most direct way to improve the squad was to add an elite netminder -- and that's certainly what Flyers Nation was clamoring for. A good thought, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details.

Under intense pressure from owner Ed Snider, general manager Paul Holmgren acquired the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov on the eve of the 2011 NHL entry draft, signing the seemingly above-average but inconsistent 30-year-old netminder to a puzzlingly long nine-year, $51 million contract, tying up nearly $6 million of cap space through his age-39 season.

While most Flyers fans were focused on and distraught over the simultaneous trades of franchise cornerstones Richards and Carter, the fact is that Holmgren got equivalent value in those deals. Any ire directed toward Philadelphia's ownership and front office should have focused squarely on the Bryzgalov fiasco. The signing was a disaster on a couple of levels -- the indefensible contract, which the sabermetric community lambasted, and the misidentification of "elite" talent, which somehow slipped by just about everyone.

How did that happen?

Often high-profile performances become etched in people's minds, even when they never reflected real, repeatable talent level or no longer reflect current talent level. As a wet-behind-the-ears backup with Anaheim in 2005 and 2006, Bryzgalov followed up mediocre regular seasons (.910, .907 save percentages) with superior playoff performances: a .944 save percentage in 11 games, including back-to-back shutouts while displacing Jean-Sebastien Giguere as starter in 2005, and .922 in five key appearances en route to the Ducks' 2006 championship.

Then, there's the question of what qualifies as a long enough and accurate enough sample of a player's performance to base future projections on. In Phoenix, while Bryzgalov's first two seasons under Wayne Gretzky were a mixed bag (.920, .906 SP), if you added in his last two seasons under Dave Tippett (.920, .921), it made for a pretty impressive four-year track record with the Coyotes, at least on the surface. In retrospect, though, Tippett and goaltending coach Sean Burke seem to be making everyone in a mask and pads look like Superman in Phoenix, inflating save percentages for Bryzgalov, backup Jason LaBarbera and 2012 Vezina snub Mike Smith over the past three seasons.

Therefore, while some may look at Bryzgalov's 2011-12 campaign as a disappointment and an anomaly, the fact is that .909 is just a tick under his career average -- if you toss out the last two seasons behind Tippett's system, which might be the real anomalies. Bryzgalov's save percentage has been between .906 and .910 in four of his seven seasons. That's not elite, and Bryzgalov never was.

Then again, it was hard to predict a performance as bad as this postseason, either, though if you were paying attention, things were trending in this direction. Looking at these numbers, 2006 and 2007 seem like distant memories.

The funny thing is that other than the highly visible gaffe on the David Clarkson goal in Game 5 against New Jersey, some folks don't seem to realize how poor Bryzgalov's performance actually was, perhaps in part because of how dreadful Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury (.834 SP in six games) was against Philadelphia in Round 1. This was a historically bad playoff run for Bryzgalov, the worst of the post-lockout era, if you consider goaltenders who played at least seven games in a postseason.

So ironically, the Flyers stand farther away from finding that elusive elite netminder than they did a year ago. Because of the long-term commitment to Bryzgalov, it seems extremely unlikely that Philadelphia would acquire another big-name goaltender. In the short run, the Flyers can hope that Bryzgalov can perform up to the standards of an average NHL starter. But the numbers indicate that might be the best they'll get."

Thanks for sticking through this long article. I didn't originally intend for it to be, it's just something I had to get off my chest. It's time this debate about Bryzgalov's finer points to go away. Anybody can go on a strong 12 game run in March, or February, or January, etc... Hell, for a large period of time, former Flyer Goalie Brian Boucher was the owner of the NHL's longest shutout streak. The sun can shine on any dog's ass, any day of the week. A strong month, however, does not make up for the overall lack of fire, passion, and "jam" necessary to be "the guy."

As always, leave me any questions, comments, or concerns, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook to read more of my inane, often times sports related, ramblings.

Category: Sports | Views: 472 | Added by: Matt | Tags: NHL, Philadelphia Flyers | Rating: 0.0/0
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