A good chunk of the people reading this sentence right now will be dead by the time Ilya Bryzgalov comes off the Flyers' books in 2027.
Provided he doesn't live until age 95, Flyers chairman Ed Snider -- the guy who made sure the Flyers solved their goalie problems with Bryzgalov -- will be among them. If you're 25 years old right now, you'll be firmly into middle age when the Flyers stop paying Bryzgalov. If you're in your teens, chances are you'll be married with kids by the time Bryz is actually gone.
If you're 50 years old, you'll get the senior discount at the movie theater while Bryz is still collecting checks from Comcast-Spectacor. That's assuming Comcast-Spectacor still exists in 15 years. That's assuming movie theaters still exist in 15 years. Who knows. IT'S A REALLY LONG TIME FROM NOW.
So he'll be on our minds for a while. Bryzgalov's buyout is the largest buyout in NHL history, topping the eight-year, $17.6 million buyout the Islanders gave Alexei Yashin in 2008. It's yet another thing for the rest of hockey to laugh at us about, but in the meantime, the Flyers have a team to put on the ice.
We're already a laughing stock, and if Steve Mason -- still the worst statistical goaltender to hold on to a starting role since the 2005 lockout -- is our starter next season, it'll probably get worse. Paul Holmgren has already tried to go after Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier this summer, but Bernier was traded to the Maple Leafs instead. It's clear he's not comfortable heading into the season with Mason as his everyday starter, so what other options does he have?
It all begins -- as always -- with cap space. The Flyers have $4.181 million in cap space heading into the season, and they can spend up $70.73 million in the offseason before getting back under the $64.3 million cap once the season starts. They'll be aided there by Chris Pronger's $4.9 million cap hit going back on long-term injured reserve once the season begins, so the Flyers do have some money to spend here.
In the meantime, there are a lot of variables that we can't predict. What holes do the Flyers need to fill? Do they have four centers on the team right now in Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and rookie Scott Laughton, or do they need to find somebody else to fill that fourth-line center role? Do they re-sign Adam Hall for that spot or find somebody else in free agency? They need to add at least one winger, depending on how guys like Jason Akeson and Tye McGinn perform in camp.
On defense, they currently have eight guys on the active roster and that doesn't include restricted free agent Erik Gustafsson, so they'll need to cut that down and see where they stand with cap space once that's done.
All of these questions impact Holmgren's ability to tackle the now wide-open goalie question, but the good news is that he does still have options despite the Bernier trade and despite Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom, a rumored former target for the Flyers, re-upping in Minnesota. Let's look at those options with the understanding that it's hard to know how this will all shake out given any other moves the team can and will make.
Go with Mason and sign a cheap backup
lol no. Our position on this hasn't changed in months. We've written extensively about it before and it all remains the same. Steve Mason played six games for the Flyers last season and looked good, and clearly the team thinks he can be a good goaltender for them. But vaulting him into the starting job on the heels of those six games given his awful -- and boy, I mean awful -- track record in Columbus isn't a smart move. He can earn the starting gig, but he hasn't yet, and the Flyers need to have another goaltender on the roster in the meantime.
Opt for a Mason-Other Guy tandem
On the bright side, getting a guy who could be a 1A or 1B with Mason could potentially work, and given the Flyers cap situation, might be the cheaper and therefore necessary option. But any guy you bring in to work in tandem with Mason would be a risky get, and as we've established, Mason himself is risky.
The last thing we need is more question marks around the goaltending position here. As Kurt wrote last week, the goalie market this offseason is favorable for the Flyers provided Holmgren's learned his lesson from two summers ago. This would be the right time to finally solve this thing.
Get a starter and make Mason your backup
So, there's the preferred option. If Holmgren goes after a starter, who's available?
These are, of course, the least likely options. Throwing a huge offer sheet at either Rask or Bobrovsky is probably not financially doable for the Flyers right now. But hey, the dream is nice.
This isn't the entire UFA market, but this list does include the more realistic options. Nabokov and Theodore are both too old in my opinion, and would likely lead to more of a tandem situation with Mason. They would likely come cheap, however, should they hit the market.
The more-expensive options would be Smith and Emery, with Smith probably considered the prize of this offseason's goalie market. We all know far too well what it's like to see a goalie perform well in Phoenix and then get overpaid by the Flyers in free agency, only to remain on the books until we're all dead, so maybe Holmgren should avoid that road.
Emery is an interesting option. He's by all accounts recovered from the degenerative hip disease that nearly ended his career back during his Flyers days a few years ago, and he played very well for the Blackhawks in 21 games this season. Of course, the Blackhawks were also Cup champions, and Emery was mediocre with them in 34 games during the 2011-12 season. No guarantees with Emery, but an interesting option. He's still young enough to be here a while should it pan out well.
Khudobin intrigues me more than anybody on the list, but he's barely played in the NHL. His numbers are gaudy but he's also played his entire career behind a team that's turned out Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. That's not to say Rask or Thomas aren't good on their own, but there's some evidence there to suggest that this Bruins team makes their goaltenders look really damn good. Khudobin would be an interesting pickup, but again, there's no guarantee he's a starter next season and there's a lot of risk there for the Flyers.
Things get more fun when we start to talk about the other guys who could be on the market.
Thomas is on this list solely because it's fun to think about. The chances of him exiting his compound and playing in the NHL again seem very slim. So, let's move on.
Anaheim signed late-blooming rookie Viktor Fasth to a two-year contract extension after he put together a great stretch for the Ducks during the shortened season. Jonas Hiller has a bit longer of a track record and is clearly the safer bet here. He's proved he can be a starter in the NHL. With Teemu Selanne to (hopefully) re-sign and a few other question marks on their roster, can Anaheim afford to spend $7.4 million on goaltending next season? I could see one of these guys hitting the trade market, and I'm sure Holmgren would pick up the phone if it happened.
Ryan Miller has just one more year left on his deal in Buffalo and it seems like the relationship there is strained, so there's always the potential the Sabres seek a trade there. I'd worry about the price tag -- and Miller's headiness isn't much better than Bryzgalov's. That dude whines to the media A LOT.
Reimer isn't a great option in my opinion, but he could be available with Bernier now in Toronto. At age 25, he could be a goalie with a bright future and he's still pretty cheap. Wouldn't cost nearly as much as a guy like Miller would in a trade or probably even Fasth would in a trade.
But, okay. Let's talk about the elephant in the room.
We know Paul Holmgren has shown interest in Roberto Luongo before, and at this point it seems like a safe bet that the Canucks will buy him out. Much like Bryzgalov, Luongo has been a victim of his contract in Vancouver and is still a very good goaltender in the NHL. He likely has several good years left in him at age 34 and will get a much more team-friendly deal if he's bought out by Vancouver.
The Flyers will be at the top of the list of teams after him should he hit free agency on July 5, and provided there's no bidding war that drives his price up through the roof, I'd hope the Flyers could lock him in at a favorable number. We've discussed how friendly the market is this year for teams searching for goaltending, and that was before Ilya Bryzgalov joined the pool of free agents.
The cons are obvious: Regardless of the market, Luongo will likely command at least $5 million per season over at least three seasons. That's risky. But the pros outweigh the cons: Luongo is a guy who led his team to the Cup Final two years ago and as starter, he led the Canucks to a first place finish in the Northwest four years in a row. Having him here would solidify the goaltender position for the foreseeable future, giving the team plenty of time to groom the Goalie Of The Future™. There's probably not a better goalie in hockey to deal with the Philly media, either.
Luongo in Philadelphia would lead to plenty of jokes, but it could just be crazy enough to work.