Two years into his nine-year deal and Ilya Bryzgalov is already being rumored as a buyout candidate in Philadelphia. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
If the Philadelphia Flyers were a musical, its most recognizable tune would be titled, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Goaltending?”
It's hard to believe a club that once boasted the legendary Bernie Parent, the late Pelle Lindbergh and the pugnacious Ron Hextall would struggle between the pipes for more than 20 years and counting.
For a team whose management (first under Bob Clarke, now under Paul Holmgren) has done a fine job acquiring talent for two decades, the Flyers can't seem to find a franchise goalie.
Ilya Bryzgalov - signed in 2011 to a nine-year, $51-million contract - was supposed to be the answer, but the good-natured, off beat netminder struggled to meet expectations.
Bryzgalov's stats this season (17-15-3, 2.88 GAA, .896 SP, one shutout) are poorer than last season's (33-16-7, 2.48 GAA, .909 SP, six shutouts), though that's more a reflection of the team's performance.
Still, Holmgren's acquisition of Steve Mason from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline has some observers believing Bryzgalov will receive an amnesty contract buyout this summer.
Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Holmgren, prior to acquiring Mason, made a failed pitch to the Ottawa Senators for Ben Bishop.
That Holmgren had interest in Bishop before dealing for Mason doesn't bode well for Bryzgalov's future in the City of Brotherly Love.
Mason, however, comes with baggage. Since winning the Calder Trophy in 2009, he's struggled to regain his once-stellar form. He was supplanted this season as the Blue Jackets starter by Sergei Bobrovsky, whom the Flyers dealt to the Jackets last June for draft picks.
Bobrovsky (14-10-6) currently ranks among the league leaders in GAA (2.05), SP (.930) and shutouts (four), leading some critics to claim the Flyers didn't know what they had in “Bob.”
Given Mason's struggles, the Flyers acquiring and subsequently signing him to a one-year, $1.5-million contract extension seems odd, but Holmgren apparently believes the 24-year-old can get his NHL career back on track.
The reduction of the salary cap to $64.3 million for next season is another reason to buy out Bryzgalov.
The Flyers currently have just more than $725,000 in cap space for next season. An amnesty buyout of Bryzgalov (and perhaps Danny Briere) combined with Chris Pronger (concussion) likely going on long-term injury reserve would provide much-needed cap room.
When asked about the possibility of being bought out, Bryzgalov was apathetic. “To be honest, I don't care,” he said. “I have no control on this, so why should I care?”
He may be putting on a brave face or trying to deflect the question, but his critics will cite the remarks as evidence of a poor attitude.
If Bryzgalov is bought out, however, the Flyers will need an experienced backup for Mason. Free agency will provide several options, possibly including Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore and former Flyer Ray Emery.
Holmgren could also use Mason as his backup and pursue starters such as Phoenix's Mike Smith, Detroit's Jimmy Howard or Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom via free agency.
The Flyers GM reportedly had interest earlier this season in Vancouver's Roberto Luongo. He could revisit that option, but at this stage that seems doubtful.
Bryzgalov could also be retained for another season, and if he doesn't work out, be bought out next summer.
Whatever option Holmgren chooses, it'll be interesting to see if it finally resolves their long-standing goalie woes.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).