Flyers Acquire Negotiating Rights to UFA G Bryzgalov

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Creative Editor

The Philadelphia Flyers today took the first step in rectifying their revolving door of goaltenders by acquiring the negotiating rights to pending unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov.

In exchange, Philadelphia sent minor league left-winger Matt Clackson, a 3rd-round pick in the 2012 draft, and an additional conditional pick to the Phoenix Coyotes.

You can make the argument that he’s among the top 10 goalies in the league, if not higher,” said GM Paul Holmgren via conference call.  ”We’re happy to get this opportunity to talk to him early and we’re going to try our best to get him signed.”

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Bryzgalov is the most sought-after netminder in this summers free agent crop, and Holmgren knew he had to make a move in order to secure the 30-year-old Russian’s services.

We’re going to give it our best shot,” Holmgren said about his chances of signing Bryzgalov.  ”Obviously we gave up an asset to get a chance to get in early so we have every intention of trying our best to get a deal done.”

You never know what’s going to happen,” he later added.  ”You gamble and wait till July 1, you don’t know who else is involved.  This gives us negotiating rights, which nobody else has.  Is it an advantage?  At least we get first crack at it, and we’ll see what we can do.”

As is the case each season, the Flyers are up against the upper limits of the NHL salary cap, and chances are they would not be able to compete if Bryzgalov went on the market on July 1st.

He’s certainly not an old goaltender,” said Holmgren when it was mentioned that agent Rich Winter will likely seek a four or five year pact.  ”He’s 30 or 31 years old.  I feel like he’s got a lot of good years left in him.  We’ll see how it goes.  When you get into a negotiation like this, you’re dealing with a salary cap, you try to get a number you can live with.”

When the subject of re-signing pending free agent winger Ville Leino in addition to Bryzgalov, Holmgren said “Obviously we still have the intention of trying to sign Ville.  With the salary cap, you can only do so much.  We’re trying to get the best team we can get to get ready for the 2011 season.”

Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider vowed after the playoffs, in which head coach Peter Laviolette was forced to juggle his goaltending trio of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton, that this would be the last time Philadelphia would see such a debacle in net.

If they are able to sign Bryzgalov to a long-term deal, Snider’s words will have come to fruition in the form of one of the best goalies in the entire league – thus solidifying one of the Flyers’ achilles heels for the better part of two decades.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to field a good team,” Holmgren said of his work behind the scenes with Snider.  ”We want to win a Stanley Cup. We’re trying to make ourselves better in all areas.”

Additionally if Bryzgalov is signed, they will likely need to make another deal to dump salary to remain cap compliant.  Forward Jeff Carter’s name has repeatedly come up as a candidate to be moved.

(We have some) good pieces that you need to win a Stanley Cup,” Holmgren said of his club.  ”In acquiring Ilya, we have an opportunity here to negotiate a contract and get him signed sort of ahead of other teams that might have had those same ideas in mind.  So we’ll see what we can do.  If we can agree to a deal, and then necessary adjustments in order to get him in the salary cap, I think we’ll still have a good team – if not better.”

If you would like to read my post-playoff (from May 11th) assessment of the Flyers goaltending woes and possible remedies, click here.  There is also a poll attached, in which 61% of the 136 voters chose Bryzgalov as the answer to Philly’s maladies between the pipes.

Holmgren has had good luck with making deals for pending free agents – with the Nashville Predators, for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell – and getting the players signed.  He also had an unsuccessful foray last summer with defenseman Dan Hamhuis, acquiring his rights, but was unable to strike a deal.

There was another player that Holmgren acquired the rights to last June, but he found the Flyers’ best offer unacceptable.  As a matter of fact, Evgeni Nabokov, also a Russian netminder, found Philly’s offer so underwhelming that he chose instead to play in the KHL.

As for a timetable on when he would like to have Bryzgalov signed, Holmgren says he isn’t worried.

Ideally before you get to the Draft, you’d like to know if you have a deal in place, and then we’ll see what we can do at the draft in order to – if we need to make some adjustments or whatever,” the GM said.  ”As long as we sense over a period of time that we’re making some progress, I don’t feel uncomfortable going late into June.”

Plus Holmgren said that until the official salary cap limit for the 2011-12 season is announced, a deal cannot be signed due to tagging rules.

The prospect of an all-Russian tandem in net of Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky should definitely excite fans of the Orange-and-Black.  Bryzgalov has been one of the most-consistent netminders in the NHL over the past two seasons, and should give the 22-year-old Bobrovsky time to develop while Bryzgalov handles the starting duties.

Just from talking to some of our guys…when Chris Pronger and Sean O’Donnell played with him, he was a young kid behind (Jean-Sebastien) Giguere,” Holmgren said.  ”He’s a team guy, and he must have gotten along pretty well with the guy who was playing behind him in Phoenix.  I don’t see an issue with that.  I think the fact that they’re both Russians probably would help.”

With regards to how many games he envisions Bryzgalov would play if signed, the GM said the team would play it by ear.

If we can sign Ilya, he’s a guy that is used to the workload,” Holmgren said.  ”So there’s a little bit of give and take there.  He played 70 in Phoenix… maybe he can play 65 here with I assume easier travel than they have in Phoenix, maybe he can play more than 70.  We’ll just play that as it goes if we can accomplish what we need to accomplish and get him signed.  First things first right now – we’ll deal with that later.”

Here is the Flyers’ official press release:

FLYERS ACQUIRE RIGHTS TO G ILYA BRYZGALOV FROM PHOENIX

The Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they have acquired the rights to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov (breez-GAH-lahf, IHL-yah) from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for LW Matt Clackson, the Flyers’ 3rd round draft choice in 2012 and a conditional draft choice, according to general manager Paul Holmgren.

Bryzgalov, 30 (6/22/80), appeared in 68 games for the Coyotes last season, his fourth with the club.  He posted a 36-20-10 record, a 2.48 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage while recording seven shutouts.  He was also a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy following the 2009-10 season.  Bryzgalov was acquired by Phoenix off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks on November 17, 2007.

Bryzgalov was a member of Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup championship squad along with current Flyers defensemen Chris Pronger and Sean O’Donnell. He appeared in 27 games that season, posting a 10-8-6-1 record with a 2.47 GAA and .907 save percentage, and was 3-1 with a 2.24 GAA and .922 save percentage in five Stanley Cup Playoff appearances en route to the championship.

Bryzgalov was selected by Anaheim in the second round (44th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.  Over parts of nine NHL seasons with Anaheim (2001-07) and Phoenix (2007-10), Bryzgalov has posted a record of 156-116-35 in 326 appearances along with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.  He has appeared in 27 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, posting a record of 12-13 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. 

A native of Togliatti, Russia, Bryzgalov has represented his home country in three Olympic Games (2002, 2006, 2010), winning a bronze medal at Salt Lake City in 2002.  He also won a gold medal with Russia at the 2009 World Championships and a silver medal at the 2000 World Junior Championships.

Clackson, 26 (4/26/85), was selected by the Flyers in the seventh round (215th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and joined the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia/Adirondack Phantoms, at the end of the 2007-08 season.  Over that time and the next three full seasons with the Phantoms, Clackson scored six goals and added 13 assists in 204 games, while accruing 574 penalty minutes.


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle