Ilya Bryzgalov & The Lessons Of Big Dollar Goaltender Contracts

April 18, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (35) replaces goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) after Bryzgalov allowed his 5th goal of the game during the second period of game four of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

During this past offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers surprised many by dealing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively. While I was puzzled to learn how the Flyers planned to replace the impressive production of their captain and his assistant, many like me were equally puzzled as to why the team felt the need to add a highly-priced goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in their stead.

From a strict on-ice perspective, Kent Wilson and Geoff Detweiler pointed out why the move didn't appear to be beneficiary to the team's intended goal, facts that ended up ringing true over the course of the season. Setting the short-term volatility of goaltender performance aside for now, Bryzgalov's 9-year, $51 million anchor will ultimately demonstrate why these contracts remain suboptimal in today's NHL.

One reality that Paul Holmgren & Co. have seemingly failed to realize is that in a post-lockout world, the NHL is being run in a salary-cap environment. Each year, there is only so much a team can spend on personnel, meaning that there are only so many ways to field an optimal roster. This isn't to say that Holmgren shouldn't be commended for receiving the best possible hauls for Richards and Carter, but if players like Sean Couturier are going to fall into your lap, you're going to want to keep them long-term.

Likewise, much has been and will continue to be written about the rookies and young talent up and down Philadelphia's roster - Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Matt Read et al. In order to keep what seems to be a promising core in-house, it is crucial to control spending so these players may receive necessary raises during restricted and/or unrestricted free agency. Unfortunately for the Flyers, these are the players that will be up for new contracts in the near future:

Player

Cap Hit ($)

Free Agency Year

UFA/RFA

Voracek

2,250,000

2012-13

RFA

Jagr

3,300,000

2012-13

UFA

Carle

3,437,500

2012-13

UFA

Simmonds

1,750,000

2013-14

RFA

Bobrovsky

1,750,000

2013-14

RFA

Hartnell

4,200,000

2013-14

UFA

Timonen

6,333,333

2013-14

UFA

Couturier

1,375,000

2014-15

RFA

Schenn

3,110,000

2014-15

RFA

Giroux

3,750,000

2014-15

RFA

Meszaros

4,000,000

2014-15

UFA

As we can see, a good deal of the money that could have gone toward keeping crucial players on this list in-house is now tied up stopping pucks researching the universe. For a team that only has about three million in cap space uncommitted for next season also facing looming CBA uncertainty and the loss of important defenseman Matt Carle, it is very likely we see the Bryzgalov handcuff tightening its latches as early as this summer.

Having touched upon the short and long-term cap implications of Bryzgalov's mammoth deal, this brings us to a discussion of what exactly the Flyers are paying for. Per capgeek, the structure of the deal is as follows:

SEASON

SALARY ($)

CAP HIT ($)

2011-12

10,000,000

5,666,667

2012-13

6,500,000

5,666,667

2013-14

8,000,000

5,666,667

2014-15

6,000,000

5,666,667

2015-16

6,000,000

5,666,667

2016-17

5,500,000

5,666,667

2017-18

5,500,000

5,666,667

2018-19

2,250,000

5,666,667

2019-20

1,250,000

5,666,667

Once we get past the fact that the deal is really 7 years, $47.5 million ($6.876 AAV) with two cheat code years thrown on to lower the cap hit, we must take in to account Bryzgalov's age. Signing the contract for his age 31 season, he will be 38 years old when the meat of this deal is over. What is more, let's take a look at Bryzgalov's performance leading up to and after inking the deal:

Year

ESSV%

Tot SV%

2008-2009

.918

.906

2009-2010

.928

.920

2010-2011

.931

.921

2011-2012

.921

.909

Though Bryzgalov had two very good years before he signed the deal, we've seen a regression this season. This leads us to ask how many more years, if any, will Bryzgalov stop pucks at an elite level? While it is very feasible that Bryz could put together an even-strength save percentage of .930 or higher next season or even a few years beyond, it seems unrealistic for such elite play to carry into the twilight years of this contract. At that point in time, Philadelphia will surely be staring at the aforementioned needs that they need to fill up front and on defense, stuck with a $5.67 million burden against doing so.

This isn't to say that goalies can't make an overwhelming difference in improving the goal differential of a team - we've seen it with guys like Hasek, Thomas, Lundqvist, Rinne, et al. The latter three, in the salary cap era, have become some of the highest-paid goaltenders in the league for these abilities. On the other end of the spectrum, however, just this year we have seen goaltenders like Halak, Elliott, Smith, Quick, Lehtonen, Howard, Theodore, Vokoun, Niemi, Anderson, Nabokov - okay, you get the picture - stop pucks at a level higher than Bryzgalov for cap hits that are much more manageable. With fine young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky already in-house, there were options available for the Flyers to acquire a name similar to these either through trade or unrestricted free agency for an easier cap burden with greater flexibility down the road.

While the trades for Richards and Carter ended up working out better than many of us expected due to drafting Couturier and the unexpected production of young players in tough roles, the long-term cap implications of the Bryzgalov contract look to be keeping the Flyers from realizing the full value of those trades. Though Mr. Holmgren's moves may be looking stellar in the short-term, moving Richards and Carter to ultimately clear space for Bryzgalov figures to be the team's Achilles heel moving forward. In the end, the Flyers example serves as yet another lesson for why building around a highly-priced goaltender is often a huge mistake.

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