Signing Bryzgalov Likely to Signal Positive Change for Flyers

By David Strehle
ot Stove Creative Editor

With Ilya Bryzgalov and his agent Ritch Winter in town until sometime today,  negotiations with Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren remain ongoing for the services of the unrestricted free agent netminder.

Following the sweep at the hands of the eventual-Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, Ed Snider said the uneasy situation in the club’s crease would not continue.  That was as a certain guarantee that the team would finally rectify its goal position after nearly two decades of neglect.

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Spent the day getting to know Ilya and Jeniya.  There will be no comment on discussions that are ongoing,” Holmgren said yesterday on the Flyers’ official site.

You can’t blame Holmgren for being gun shy about revealing the progression of negotiations after what happened last year.  He had made bold moves in acquiring the rights to two UFAs – defenseman Dan Hamhuis and goalie Evgeni Nabokov.  But when all was said and done, Holmgren was unable to sign either.

After acquiring the negotiating rights to Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes on June 7th, there has been much speculation as to whether or not the Flyers’ GM will be able to satisfy Winter’s contract demands.

Rumors have Winter looking for somewhere in the 5-7 year range in length, for anywhere from $30-$49 million.

As talks continue, it seems certain there will be changes if the Flyers are indeed able to ink Bryzgalov to a long-term deal.  The very philosophy of the team will likely even be altered.

The general idealogy of head coach Peter Laviolette has been defense-first, forecheck and pressure the puck, and attack in transition.  The fact that his team couldn’t lock down leads over the last half of the season led to a game plan of trying to outgun their opposition.

That, as the history books will show, did not work out well for Philadelphia.

With youngster Sergei Bobrovsky and veterans Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton in the crease, Laviolette was forced to play an embarassing game of musical goaltenders for a good portion of the last month before his team was eliminated.

As much as everyone in the area discounted the importance that Philadelphia failed to register a single shutout in a season for the first time in 30 years, the postseason should suggest otherwise.

Ryan Miller was spectacular in net for the Buffalo Sabres against the Flyers in the first round before finally succumbing in the seventh game.  Miller posted two 1-0 white-washes of the Orange-and-Black, and nearly stole the series for the Sabres.

Boston’s Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks were the goaltenders in the Cup Finals, and both played major roles in their club’s respective postseason success.

Thomas justifiably won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs,  posting a miniscule 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage – and recording four shutouts, including a 4-0 decision in the Cup-clincher.

Although dramatically inconsistent, Luongo almost pulled off a miracle in the Finals.  Even though his team managed to score just eight goals in the seven-game series, Luongo posted two 1-0 blankings of the Bruins in getting his team to a deciding Game 7.

The point being here that there will always be times when your club goes into scoring slumps from time-to-time.  That is a given, and it is just the nature of the sport.

Philadelphia experienced their fair share of offensive slumps down the stretch and in the playoffs, but the team’s netminders were rarely able to steal a game for them.

Bryzgalov will be that type of a clutch goaltender that can win a game – and possibly even a series – when the team isn’t playing at its best.

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He showed the inate ability to steal games for an offensively bland Phoenix club.  The Flyers – even with the realization that they will have to part with (an) asset(s), dependent on the size of the pact Bryzgalov will surely get, if signed - will still have much more in the way of offensive firepower at their disposal.

But the reality is that Bryzgalov will allow Philadelphia to gut out those 1-0 victories that have been one-sided wins for the opposition for over a year.  Opponents blanked the Flyers on nine occasions this past season - seven in the regular season – so that was nine contests that Philly had no chance at winning.

With Bryzgalov backstopping the Orange-and-Black, Laviolette should be able to expect a clutch save at the most important point of a game – much the same way he did with Cam Ward in net when he coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup.

For much of the latter part of the year, those who followed the Flyers held their breath much of the time when the puck was in the Philadelphia end of the ice late in tight contests.  The nervous anxiety of the back-breaking goal was realized more often than not.

Trust can be a fleeting thing, and Laviolette’s was understandably lost late in the season.  With Bryzgalov in the fold, that trust should be unwavering from the coach.

And with that type of trust, Laviolette’s stifling, air-tight defense and counter-punching style should be able to be employed to the maximum next year.

Of course, much of that will also depend on the health of the club’s top two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.  But that is an issue for another time.

The groundwork is apparently laid for a deal, as both sides have met extensively this week.  As long as both sides are reasonable, a pact could be in place and announced sometime around Bryzgalov’s 31st birthday on June 22nd.

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