Ilya Bryzgalov flew far from under the radar during his first season with the Flyers. In fact, if he were a fighter pilot, he’d have been blown out of the sky by the end of October.
Signed to a nine-year, $51 million contract in June, Bryzgalov was supposed to bring stability to a position that had been anything but stable in Philadelphia since, well, a long time ago.
He started out decently enough, winning his first two games and allowing just one goal in the process.
Then it got interesting.
Our intention is to look forward to 2012-13. Specifically, can the 32-year-old Russian rediscover the form that earned him the big contract in the first place?
From 2007-08 to 2010-11 with the Coyotes, Bryzgalov was one of the NHL’s elite goalies. During his last season in Phoenix, he went 36-20-10 with a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Yet despite those numbers, everyone knew the Flyers were taking a considerable risk by locking him up for nine years.
First off, Bryzgalov had never played in a high-pressure market like Philadelphia. Suffice to say his eccentricities didn’t get as much play in Phoenix.
Second, the Coyotes play a defense-first system under coach Dave Tippett, and defense-first systems often mean fewer quality shots against. As a result, goalies can have their save percentages inflated.
Philadelphia, of course, plays a very different style than Phoenix, and Chris Pronger’s absence for all but 13 games didn’t help shore things up on the back end.
For optimistic Flyers fans, Bryzgalov now knows exactly what he’s gotten himself into by signing in Philadelphia. If the media caught him off guard when he first arrived, it won’t this time. Nor will HBO cameras be stalking him.
Bryzgalov will also be familiar with the players in front of him, save for new additions Luke Schenn and, possibly, Shea Weber.
Speaking of Weber, it’s hard for a goalie to get worse with the addition of one of the best defenseman in the league.
Optimists will also take comfort in Bryzgalov’s post All-Star Game numbers (.929 SV%) compared to the ones prior to Jan. 29 (.895 SV%).
For pessimists, it’s hard to overlook what happened in the playoffs when Bryzgalov allowed 37 goals in 11 games. (To put that in perspective, Jonathan Quick allowed 29 goals in 20 games.)
Obviously we don’t know if Bryzgalov will bounce back. But what we do know is he’s used his mulligan. Another less-than-stellar season and that contract looks a lot longer.