Why are the Flyers in the goaltending situation that we are in right now?

This is a very complex question with very many different opinions that could qualify as legitimate answers. I want to start off by saying that I am not talking about “value” or contracts. I know when evaluating players we like to judge them based on their contracts but this situation is slightly different. Odds are that the Flyers front office knew there would be some sort of amnesty clause in the new CBA, which there is, which nullifies the impact of the 9-year-deal. Bryz essentially has a totally new contract: He had a one year deal at the beginning of this year with a club option for a second year and another club option for a third year. That second club option, at the end of next 2013-14 season, will put the Flyers in a situation where they will have to choose between parting ways with Bryz or confirm the rest of his 6-year deal. He’ll be 35 when we have to make that decision.

This article is about what happened to the player that was (is?) Ilya Bryzgalov the goalie. Why did we have to trade for Steve Mason?

In a theoretical 82 game season that starts in October with Bryz, we’d expect him to play roughly 65-72 games. He’ll get a real heavy workload early on and once we get comfortable in the playoff race, Leighton or Boosh will get a low pressure start against a weak team every here or there. There is no need for a young backup with potential who can eat minutes, because there aren’t a lot of minutes to eat. With that in mind, the Flyers traded Bob and got decent value with some draft picks, highlighted by 2nd round pick and potential goalie of the future Anthony Stolarz.

What people forget about the lockout is it condensed the season in addition to cutting it in half. Games are worth twice as many points and injuries are twice as long. A bad-luck start highlighted by a Saber game that we got like 3 goals taken off the board and an injury to Scott Hartnell really crippled the Flyers (in addition to Briere starting the year on the DL). Without Hartnell and Briere the Flyers power play was the worst in the league (since he’s come back its risen back to the top of the league). All of the sudden the Flyers were looking up at 8th place from deep down in the Eastern Conference---a situation we weren’t expecting coming off of 4 strait trips into the second round of the playoffs and more playoff series wins than anyone but Detroit since the last lockout. Bryz had to be overworked because we couldn’t trust Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton with an important game while every game was important.

One think that most people should remember was Bryz’ hot start to the year. He stole some games for us and put up some great numbers. Over the first 22 days of the season Ilya Bryzgalov went 5-5-1 with a 2.26 GAA and a .921 save percentage. In that span he played 2 back-to-back sets; meaning 4 of his first 11 games were played back to back. Bryz looked great and the Flyers were still considered, in many peoples eyes, a near lock for the playoffs. Then a few different things happened…

Matt Read and Andrej Meszaros got hurt for extended periods of time. This forced the Flyers defense to have two of Kurtis Foster, Andres Lilja, and Bruno Gervais in it in addition to the aged Mike Knuble filling in for the injured forwards. Every time we’d look good another defender would go down whether it was Grossmann or Coburn, who both had their seasons ended early. Our defense was decimated to the point that our #2, #4, and #5 were and are done for the year. No team in the league can compete at a consistently competitive level with 60% of their top-5 out of the lineup. To make things worse, Bryz was continuing to play games at an alarming rate.

With the duo of Leighton and Boucher failing to record a win all year, Bryz continued to play a ridiculous amount of games. Over the next 55 days, up to the Mason trade Bryz played 22 games and was lit up to the tune of a 3.18 GAA and .885 save percentage; he also played both ends of four back-to-backs over that span. He admitted he was exhausted at one point and rightfully so. Bryzgalov’s last season in Phoenix he played 67 games over 182 games; one game per every 2.7 days. Here is a chart comparing how many games he would play over a certain amount of days in a normal year compared to this condensed year:

Time Period Rate 22 55 182
First 22 days 2 11
Second 55 days 2.5 22.0
Total 77 days 2.3 23.6 78.1
2011-12 2.7 8.1 20.3 67.2

The top three rows are rates at which Bryz played games this year and how many games he played for each specific length of days. For example, over the first 22 days of the season Bryz played at a rate of one game per two days; eleven games. For the next 55 days he played 22 games, for a rate of one game per every 2.5 days. Over the first 77 days of the NHL season Bryz played one game every 2.33 days. Compare those numbers to the rate of days/game of his last year in Phoenix: 2.72. Bryz started his season playing 3 more games in the first 22 games than he normally would have. Over the next 55 days he only played 2 more games than he would have, but if you include the first 22 days he’s 3.3 games over schedule. To put it all in perspective, if he played games at the rate he did before we acquired Steve Mason for a full 182 days (the amount of days from game 1 to game 67 his last year in Phoenix), Bryz would have played 78 games. I don't care how much of a "workhorse" a goalie may be, 78 games per year pace is far too many games.

Connecting the dots from above, Bryzgalov was obviously overworked. Management was wrong in their assessments of Leighton and Boucher, both of whom are below-average backup goalies in the NHL. We were too early to move on Bob and too late to make a move for a backup this year. The Mason trade gives the Flyers a little bit of flexibility next year. If Bryz falters again next year, he will be bought out, and that’s assuming he’s not bought out this year which is a possibility at this point. Mason’s contract will be off the books at the end of next year as well and then the Flyers have flexibility at the goaltender spot. Stolarz will be playing his rookie year in the AHL at that point, but we would still need two NHL goalies so Stolarz doesn’t have to be rushed up. The Bryzgalov experiment becomes just that: a failed experiment not a 9 year catastrophe.

At the end of the day the Flyers really needed a super human effort from Bryz nearly every single day this hockey season and we didn’t get that. Early on this season, we did get a truly great ten games, but then the workload caught up and he couldn’t maintain his pace. No matter what happens the MSM goalie controversy has hit full steam. There’s no avoiding it now, we have to brace ourselves for another off season of the dreaded two words Flyers fans know all two well: goalie controversy.


This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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