Will Ilya Bryzgalov be the difference maker the Flyers are looking for?

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Let’s face it, Ilya Bryzgalov is the best goalie the Philadelphia Flyers have brought in to play in decades. Not since Ron Hextall in the early 90s have the Flyers had a big time number one goalie who could carry a team. After struggling in the playoffs last year with Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren decided it was time to correct a long-standing problem in Philadelphia at goalie.

Enter Ilya Bryzgalov to the situation, a guy who established himself as the top guy in Phoenix the last four seasons.  The kind of success he brought the Coyotes and the kind of statistics he piled up made him into one of the league’s best goalies. With that pedigree, Bryzgalov arrives in Philadelphia as a savior-like figure.

Should he be though? Jonathan Willis of Houses Of The Hockey breaks down his numbers and whether or not he’s better (or, gulp, worse) than what Bobrovsky and Boucher brought to the ice last year.

Since the NHL lockout, Bryzgalov’s 0.916 SV% ranks him eighth (min. 100 games), tied with figures like Ryan Miller and a hair back of Niklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist.  Over just the last three seasons, that same 0.916 SV% places him 10th.  Last season, Bryzgalov ranked eighth among starters.  There’s a good deal of consistency in those numbers, which place Bryzgalov as a top-10 NHL goaltender.

The problem is that the Flyers, by and large, got pretty good goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher last season.  A lack of consistency game-in and game-out cost Bobrovsky his starting job immediately when he faltered early in the playoffs, but his overall save percentage of 0.915 is in the same range as Bryzgalov’s career numbers, as was Boucher’s 0.916 SV%.  Those players faltered in the post-season, but then again so did Bryzgalov – he went 0-4 with a miserable 0.879 SV%.  I’m not inclined to harshly criticize Bryzgalov for those numbers (four games is too short a period to be basing judgement on) but neither am I inclined to dismiss the regular season results of Bobrovsky and Boucher because of their playoff struggles.

None of this is to say that Bryzgalov isn’t a much better goalie than Boucher, and probably a better one than Bobrovsky for that matter.  His career numbers are far superior to the former, and the latter is a bit of a question mark given that he’s played just a single NHL season.  Over the long haul, Bryzgalov is a good bet to outperform that duo.

Willis is a smart guy and great with breaking down the numbers but if there’s any shot that Bryzgalov turns out worse than how the Flyers’ duo performed last year, especially late in the season, Flyers fans are going to start gnawing off their arms come April. With Bryzgalov signing a nine-year, $51 million deal this summer the Flyers are hoping that Bryzgalov can sustain his great play for a long time.

The one problem to those big plans could be Bryzgalov’s age. At 31 years-old, asking him to stand tall for a long time in Philly could be asking a lot. After all, not all goalies play until they’re 40. Martin Brodeur will be 39 this season and has a Hall Of Fame résumé to back him up. Patrick Roy played until he was 37 and had an equally gaudy career. Dominik Hasek left the NHL at age 43 and continues to play professionally in Europe now at age 46. In other words, Bryzgalov’s long future isn’t guaranteed.

The one thing that will keep the hounds at bay for Bryzgalov in Philly will be to win the Stanley Cup. If he can bring Philly their first Cup since the mid-70s, something he’s eager to do, the rest of  his contract will end up looking like a “thank you” bonus. One thing is for sure, the expectations are high for Bryzgalov and it’s up to him and the rest of the team to help him live up to sky-high expectations.