Let’s play a little game.
Play along, for one second, that the Flyers have signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a lengthy contract. It has been reported that Bryzgalov is seeking a deal for at least four years, though five would be ideal. For a five year deal, his ballpark would be somewhere between $27.5 million and $32 million.
It’s a hefty price tag, for sure. The exact numbers, for this argument, make no difference.
But let’s assume a deal of that nature gets accomplished. Make no mistake, the Flyers did not acquire the rights to Bryzgalov – easily the free agent market’s No. 1 available goaltender – to play a game of cat and mouse.
Who will start in net for the Flyers next year?
So, then, what do the Flyers do with Sergei Bobrovsky?
The gut reaction, for most, would be to plug Bobrovsky in a tandem with his new Russian teammate.
“If we do, we’ll have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league,” general manager Paul Holmgren said in a conference call on Tuesday night. “I feel confident in saying that, anyway.”
Holmgren was quick to say that he “still thinks the world of Sergei” and thinks “he’s one of the top young goalies in our game.”
Most telling, though, was Holmgren’s comments about a prospective workload for Bryzgalov. The Coyotes’ backbone over the last four seasons, Bryzgalov has not played in fewer than 65 games in each of the last three years.
Last season, Bobrovsky started 55 games as a 22-year-old. Assuming the Flyers are willing to sink a ton of money into Bryzgalov, at an extended term, then what happens to Bobrovsky’s workload?
“If we can sign Ilya,” Holmgren was saying, “He’s a guy that is used to the workload. So there’s a little bit of give and take there. He played 70 in Phoenix … Maybe he can play 65 here. With I assume easier travel than they have in Phoenix, maybe he can play more than 70.”
More than 70 games would leave Bobrovsky with less than 12 starts – and a handful of relief appearances, if necessary. Even 60 starts would cut Bobrovsky down to just 22.
At 22, Bobrovsky is not going to sit patiently and wait for Bryzgalov to play out the term of his deal. A lot was made of whether Bryzgalov could mentor a fellow Russian netminder.
But put yourself in Bryzgalov’s skates. Would you want to spend a lot of time mentoring a kid who could take your starting job in year three of a five year deal? In a lot of ways, it’s human nature to react coldly to a situation like that – and we’re not saying that Bryzgalov would. He apparently got along just fine with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim.
More importantly, on a cap-strapped team that is about to sink nearly 10 percent of their available payroll into one goaltender, does it really make sense to have an expensive backup on the bench in Bobrovsky?
There is no longer a bonus cushion on the salary cap. Bobrovsky’s seemingly benign $850,000 entry-level deal is a $1.75 million hit on the cap next season. That would make him one of the highest paid backups in the NHL.
That would seemingly preclude injury prone Michael Leighton, and his $1.55 million cap hit, from being Bryzgalov’s backup, as well.
So, the next gut reaction for most, would be to send Bobrovsky to the AHL to continue his development. Unfortunately, the Flyers are stuck in that regard.
Not only would Leighton likely be stashed in Adirondack to keep his salary off the cap, but Bobrovsky – for the first time in his career – will be susceptible to waivers.
According to Article 13.4 of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Bobrovsky lost his waiver exemption – even though he is still on his entry-level deal – by playing in his 60th career game. The number in the CBA says it includes playoff and regular season games. Coincidentally, Bobrovsky played his 60th career game in Game 3 against Boston.
If the above is true, Bobrovsky would undoubtedly be plucked off waivers.
Essentially, the Flyers have two options. Keep Bobrovsky as the NHL's second highest-paid backup and watch him wither away. Or they could trade him.
The latter makes the most sense. Why keep Bobrovsky as an unhappy, undeveloped salary cap malady when you could move him and actually get something in return for him? Trade him for a first or second round pick to re-stock a barren prospect cupboard. I am absolutely sure that a team like Florida, who will likely lose Tomas Vokoun to free agency, could throw Bobrovsky all of the starts he could handle and see if they can develop him in less of a pressure-cooker environment.
When you consider that the Flyers could use the extra $750k from his salary – as compared to an inexpensive backup at $900,000 – to fill other roster spots, the argument comes full circle. That $750,000 is a large chunk of a guy like Darroll Powe’s salary. Powe is a restricted free agent, a player that Holmgren called one of the most underrated in the league.
It sounds crazy, but there is a way I could envision the Flyers re-signing Brian Boucher as Bryzgalov’s backup. Boucher is an unrestricted free agent. To my knowledge, the Flyers have Boucher’s agent have not had any discussions so far.
Boucher recently completed a two-year, $1.85 million deal.
Before you go nuts, let’s not forget that Boucher was signed to be a backup. First to Ray Emery. Then to Leighton. Then to Bobrovsky. To say that Boucher exceeded the expectations of his contract would probably be an understatement.
In all reality, Boucher is probably due a little bit of a raise on the open market. Especially when you consider that the Coyotes just plunked down $2.5 million over two years on backup Jason Labarbera on Monday. With 43 games, no backup in the NHL came close last year – unless you want to include Dan Ellis in Anaheim, though he commenced the season as the Lightning starter before being supplanted by Dwayne Roloson.
Boucher might make the best backup for Bryzgalov, as a tested veteran and strong locker room presence who can give you anywhere from 12 to 25 reliable starts during the season. If he would be willing to take a hometown discount, and re-up at $950k or $1 million, he might be the perfect fit.
WHO STAYS, WHO GOES: Still playing along, it’s fun to look at some of the salary cap numbers. Assuming the salary cap goes anywhere from $62.2 (as reported by the New York Post) to $63.5 million (as reported almost everywhere else), Paul Holmgren could get pretty creative – and still manage to keep a player of Jeff Carter’s ilk and salary.
Here is what I came up with, using CapGeek.com’s cap calculator:
*assuming $63.5 million
CAPGEEK.COM CAP CALCULATOR
Daniel Briere ($6.500m) / Mike Richards ($5.750m) / Kris Versteeg ($3.083m)
Scott Hartnell ($4.200m) / Claude Giroux ($3.750m) / Andreas Nodl ($0.950m)
James Van Riemsdyk ($1.654m) / Jeff Carter ($5.272m) / Ben Holmstrom ($0.750m)
Darroll Powe ($0.850m) / Blair Betts ($0.700m) / Jody Shelley ($1.100m)
Kimmo Timonen ($6.333m) / Chris Pronger ($4.921m)
Andrej Meszaros ($4.000m) / Matt Carle ($3.437m)
Braydon Coburn ($3.200m) / Danny Syvret ($0.525m)
Ilya Bryzgalov ($5.500m) / Brian Boucher ($0.975m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
SALARY CAP: $63,500,000; CAP PAYROLL: $63,452,488; BONUSES: $975,000
CAP SPACE (20-man roster): $47,512
You can play with the lines however you want. Sure, the cap space would be thin. But I’m assuming a $100,000 raise for Powe, a $100,000 raise for Nodl, a $50,000 raise for Boucher, a contract of $5.5 million for Bryzgalov, and signing Danny Syvret to a league-minimum $525,000 one-way deal to play in place of Oskars Bartulis’ $600,000 contract. You could also factor in Matt Read, who racked up 13 points in 11 games with the Phantoms after signing from Bemidji State, as a possible replacement whose cap hit would be $900,000.
That would mean that the Flyers would not re-sign Ville Leino, Nik Zherdev, Dan Carcillo and Sean O’Donnell.
Or, the Flyers could move a piece like Carter, before his 11-year, $58 million deal kicks in on July 1, and have some room to re-sign a few of those guys while still nabbing Bryzgalov. That would also net the Flyers a reasonably high draft pick and/or top prospects. As they say, pure goal scorers do not exactly grow on trees.
As Holmgren is already well aware, there are many different ways to skin a cat.
Let’s keep in mind, though, that the Flyers cannot sign Bryzgalov before next year’s salary cap number is announced after completion of the Stanley Cup Final unless they first make a trade. That probably won’t happen. Holmgren says he “has an idea” of what the salary cap projection will be.
The smooth move would be to head into the June 24 Draft in St. Paul, Minn., with an unannounced deal inked for Bryzgalov. That wouldn’t tip Holmgren’s hand for what he has to unload, which would decrease any return value – whether it be for Carter or Bobrovsky.
Stay tuned. These next few weeks will be interesting.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
Get exclusive videos and analysis in our new app for iPhone and Android. Download it here.