Does Philly need a better backup for Bryzgalov?

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Over at CSN Philadelphia, John Boruk takes a closer look at the Flyers’ goaltending situation behind Ilya Bryzgalov.

With this year’s backup, Sergei Bobrovsky, coming off a less-than-stellar campaign — and with no real guarantee he’ll be back next season — Boruk figures the Flyers will have to go shopping for a backup if/when “Bob” is dispatched to the AHL.

The Flyers need to find a reliable veteran backup on a one-year contract who can offset Bryzgalov, especially during those stints when he gets lost in that heavily wooded bear-infested wilderness that swallowed him up this past season.

It may not be one of the Flyers’ biggest, flashiest or more-expensive moves, but it could prove to be just as important come July 1. 

Boruk threw five names out: Tomas Vokoun, Johan Hedberg, Josh Harding, Scott Clemmensen and Chris Mason. All of them are unrestricted free agents with Harding (27) the youngest and Hedberg (39) the oldest.

One name overlooked is that of Martin Biron, the 34-year-old caddy to Henrik Lundqvist in New York that’s received high praise, most notably from CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

If I’m Paul Holmgren, I’m doing what I can to get Martin Biron back in a Flyer uniform this summer. (Biron is a UFA.) You have to get Bryzgalov the best possible backup, a team-oriented veteran who will do whatever it takes to make your starter comfortable. This is your guy. The Verizon Center has a really tight visitor’s room. Biron would leave it during intermissions so Lundqvist had more room to spread out and relax. It’s a small thing, but a big thing and, for all of his friendliness, Biron understands the larger picture. Plus, he’d do a lot of talking, which would also ease Bryzgalov’s burden.

A real, real wildcard would be former Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet. He’s coming off an insanely good year in the Swiss league — posting a 1.99 GAA and .932 save percentage — and starred for Team France at the recently-completed World Hockey Championships.

Holmgren to Bryzgalov: This isn’t Comedy Central

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As we’ve previously reported, Ilya Bryzgalov recently opened up about the rough season he had and, in particular, the media scrutiny he endured.

“What I lived through this season I wouldn’t wish to an enemy,” Bryzgalov said – and that’s not the only headline-worthy nugget he’s given this season. If fact, he might have provided some of the most interesting quotes of the 2011-12 campaign.

We’ve gained insight into his personality and learned that, like Stephen Colbert, he has a fear of bears. That’s great and all, but his employers would probably wish he didn’t try to be as quotable as Colbert too.

“His job is to stop pucks and help us win games,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. “It’s not Comedy Central.”

Holmgren took a big risk when he traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter while almost simultaneously signing Bryzgalov to a nine-year/$51 million contract. He has a lot riding on Bryzgalov and so far, things haven’t played out like he planned.

“Did he play as good as I expected this year,” Holmgren asked. “I’d probably say, no.”

That being said, Holmgren hasn’t given up on Bryzgalov.

“I absolutely think being here a year will help him,” Holmgren said.

All we know for certain is that one year is in the books and there’s eight more to go on that contract.

Bryzgalov: “What I lived through this season I wouldn’t wish to an enemy”

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Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t want to answer reporters’ questions during the Flyers’ postseason media day on Thursday, but he was willing to give a very open and honest interview to Natalia Bragilevskaya of SovSport.

“What I lived through this season I wouldn’t wish to an enemy,” Bryzgalov said. “. . . I need to keep working. I understand the fans. They paid their money and want the show. But many forget that we are not robots, but living people. We have feelings, worries.”

Bryzgalov was very inconsistent during the regular season. He was a bit more reliable in the playoffs, but not in a good way. With the exception of Game 6 against Pittsburgh, Bryzgalov allowed at least three goals in every postseason contest.

“I got very tired this season, to be honest,” he said. “. . . Now I know what it’s like to be a goaltender in Philadelphia. Maybe from the outside it looks like there’s nothing to it. You only realize it on your own.”

It sounds like the media scrunity he experienced in Philadelphia might have come as a revelation, especially considering he jumped straight from the Phoenix Coyotes to the Flyers.

“People are so concentrated on the negative that they only see the bad in me,” Bryzgalov said. “But I think you need to be kinder to each other.”

Still, Bryzgalov does feel that he’s gained “invaluable experience” this season and he’s not prepared to give up despite the difficulties.

“I have eight more years to work under my contract with Philadelphia,” Bryzgalov said. “If I am criticized, then I will endure it. You can’t tie up people’s tongues. It is their right to let the emotions go.”

Being criticized is just something that’s going to happen if you’re playing for a big city in a key role. That’s not unique to hockey and certainly not unique to Bryzgalov. He wasn’t all bad this season, not even close, but the Flyers need more from him going forward.

Flyers GM Holmgren on Bryzgalov: “Ilya will be better next year”

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Flyers GM Paul Holmgren met with the media today and, as expected, fielded a number of questions about Ilya Bryzgalov. After Philly’s disappointing five game loss to New Jersey in the Eastern Conference semifinals — a series in which Bryzgalov’s play came under fire — Holmgren was asked to reflect on Bryz’s year and look ahead to his future.

Which the GM did…with confidence.

“I absolutely think being here a year will help him,” Holmgren said. “He had a lot of things to adjust to and adapt to. From playing in Philadelphia, the scrutiny of the media in Philadelphia compared to where he came from [Phoenix], the scrutiny of the fans compared to where he came from, different style of play…

“I don’t think there’s any question Ilya will be better next year.”

Video:

In closing, some numbers to throw your way…

2011-12, Bryzgalov regular season: 33-16-7, .909 save percentage, 2.48 GAA
2010-11, Sergei Bobrovsky regular season: 28-13-8, .915 save percentage, 2.54 GAA

2011-12, Bryzgalov postseason: 5-6, .887 save percentage, 3.46 GAA
2010-11, Brian Boucher postseason: 4-4, .904 save percentage, 3.13 GAA

…In light of those, Bryzgalov better be better next year. The Flyers can’t afford him to be worse.

Bryzgalov finishes third…on a list of the worst playoff performances by a Flyers goalie

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On the bright side, he didn’t finish first or second. According to The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau, Roman Cechmanek and Robbie Moore earned those honors, respectively.

Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, Moore was one of the “first goalies in either college or professional hockey to come out of his net and handle the puck like a defenseman.”

Just like Ilya Bryzgalov did last night!

Anyway, here’s what Proteau had to say about Bryzgalov’s playoff performance:

Leave aside all the sideshow elements to Bryzgalov’s first year as a Flyer – the colorful quotes, the philosophical ruminations, the insightful and entertaining Twitter account – and just look at his numbers: an .887 SP, 3.46 GAA and a playoff-worst 37 goals allowed. It doesn’t matter that Bryzgalov’s teammates weren’t there to bail him out – for a $5.6 million salary cap hit (until 2020), his stats are simply unacceptable.

Hard to argue with that.

On the other hand, while I’ve never been sold on Bryzgalov, I’m not to the point where I’m ready to write him off. Clearly he wasn’t prepared to play in a market like Philadelphia. And on top of having to shoulder the massive expectation he would solve Philly’s longstanding goaltending nightmare, there were distractions like “24/7” and the Winter Classic.

Throw in a new system to learn and the injury to Chris Pronger, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL, and any goalie would struggle.

The hope for Flyers fans is Bryzgalov uses this season as a learning experience and comes back in the fall focused on hockey, not all the other noise.

Related: Team Russia says “no” to Ilya Bryzgalov