After falling just shy of winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers were swept in the second round of the 2011 playoffs.
At that point, the Flyers thought they were one good goaltender short of a parade. Sergei Bobrovsky had been solid in his rookie campaign, but the inexperienced netminder struggled in his first playoff run and the organization wasn’t prepared to take a chance with him leading the charge again.
Instead, they dealt forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in separate trades to free up the cap space necessary to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract in June 2011.
“He does give us stability,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said at the time, per TSN.ca.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Instead, what the Flyers got was one of the most remarkable blunders in recent history. Bryzgalov wasn’t always bad, but never justified his paycheck. Despite that, it was stunning to see the plug being pulled on the experiment after just two seasons as Holmgren called Bryzgalov a “costly mistake” after buying him out.
Part of Holmgren’s motivation might have come from Bryzgalov’s interviews as much as his struggles on the ice. After just one campaign, the Flyers GM had already complained that his goaltender shouldn’t act like he was on Comedy Central.
In that vein of not taking things seriously, Bryzgalov also reportedly fell asleep during a team meeting, took issue with the Philadelphia media during an interview and had some problems with the Russian media as well.
When he was bought out, Bryzgalov did thank the Flyers, but his agent Ritch Winter blasted the team’s defensive system and claimed it was “terrible for goaltenders in Philadelphia.”
Goaltender Steve Mason might disagree with that. He’s just one of the many players that has been positively impacted, some more bizarrely than others, by Bryzgalov’s move to Philadelphia. In the end, perhaps that’s the weirdest part of this story.
Carter and Richards obviously won the Stanley Cup within a year of getting traded, but they weren’t the only ones that could be called winners in all of this.
Bobrovsky was dealt eventually too because of Bryzgalov’s presence and he went on to win the Vezina Trophy. His rise combined with Bryzgalov’s ongoing struggles in Philadelphia, led to Mason finally getting a change of scenery that has, for the most part, been a plus for him.
You could even say it helped Mike Smith as he got a golden opportunity with the Coyotes after Bryzgalov snubbed them in favor of Philadelphia. Smith took full advantage of that opportunity and that led to him getting a six-year, $34 million contract.
In the end, it’s hard to even call Bryzgalov a loser in all of this because, while he obviously had different expectations in mind when he left the small market Phoenix Coyotes in pursuit of the Stanley Cup, he’s still going to make roughly $1.6 million annually through 2026-27.
So the only obvious losers in all of this were the Flyers, for two reasons: 1) they’ll be writing checks for over a decade to a goaltender they barely got any use out of and no longer want anything to do with, and 2) he completely failed provide the stability that Holmgren sought.
As such, Philadelphia’s quest for its first Cup since 1975 goes on.