Ilya Bryzgalov will start his 20th straight game on Wednesday night against Montreal, something Peter Laviolette said he doesn’t have much choice about given the Flyers’ position in the standings.
Well, now Laviolette has a choice. And so do the Flyers this summer in retaining Bryzgalov’s rights.
The Flyers acquired goaltender Steve Mason from Columbus before Wednesday’s trade deadline, the same team they traded backup Sergei Bobrovsky to last summer. The Flyers were also reportedly in the hunt for Ottawa’s Ben Bishop, who was dealt to Tampa Bay.
Backup Michael Leighton was sent to the Blue Jackets along with a 2015 third round pick. Leighton is a pending unrestricted free agent. This is the Flyers’ first trade deadline day move since 2009.
When asked if the Flyers view Mason as a backup, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was quick to not pigeon-hole Mason into a specific role. Holmgren passed up an opportunity to stress that Bryzgalov is the Flyers' long-term starter.
“We see him as one of our two goalies, not only the rest of this year, but moving forward," Holmgren said. "We’ll just leave it at that for now.”
That would seem an ominous response for Bryzgalov's future here, with the option of a contract amnesty coming in the summer.
Bobrovsky, 24, was a March “Star of the Month” and he’s the big reason the Blue Jackets are in the playoff hunt. He’s got a 2.13 GAA and .927 save percentage.
Mason, also 24, was the 2009 Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. He was pulled in his first game the following season and has never really recovered.
Mason was looking for a change of scenery after Bobrovsky took over Columbus’ starting role by force. Mason said he is “just looking for the opportunity to go there and get my game back on track.” He is in the final year of a 2-year, $5.8 million deal.
“I’m super excited to get into Philadelphia,” Mason told Rogers Sportsnet. “It’s a tough place to play, fans expect the most out of their goaltenders. I’m looking forward to getting into a market like that. When you’re playing well as a goaltender in that situation, there is no better situation.”
Mason said he re-tooled his game last summer with the Blue Jackets’ goaltending coach, calming down his style. His save percentage averages under .900 over the last 4 seasons since winning the Calder, but he is still young.
“We’ve changed a couple things, with the depth I’ve been taking off the rush. When your calm, the game seems to hit your sometimes,” Mason said. “It’s definitely a great feeling. With the players they have in that organization, and the history they have there ... I’m really just looking forward to starting off on the good fit.”
Holmgren said Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese saw something he liked in Mason.
“I think he’s bounced back a little better this year,” Holmgren said. “Steve is still a young goalie, still has a lot of upside. Jeff Reese, our goalie coach, studies a lot of goalies around the league and likes Steve. He thinks there is something there. We still think there is tremendous upside there.”
Now, with Mason in the fold, it sure seems as if the Flyers have plans to use the amnesty clause on Bryzgalov in the summer. The Flyers would still be required to pay Bryzgalov his remaining salary, over a longer period of years, but they would be relieved of his salary cap hit and he would become a free agent.
The Flyers owe Bryzgalov $34.5 million over the remaining 7 years on his deal after this season. Bryzgalov is 48-30-10 with a .905 save percentage since joining the Flyers. The buyout formula is two-thirds money remaining divided by double the term remaining, so $23 million divided by 14 years is $1.64 million per season until 2027... to not play for the team.
How much of this trade is a sign that the Flyers might be cutting Bryzgalov loose in the summer? Mason is due more than a $3 million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent to retain his rights. Of course, Mason could re-sign prior to the summer for less money, which is possible given his decreased numbers recently.
If Mason does not sign for less, the Flyers would be spending an all-time franchise-high $8.7 million in goaltenders with both Bryzgalov and Mason. Holmgren said he has already held discussions with Mason's agent and expects to re-sign him before this season ends.
“I don’t think it will be $9 million (total spent on goaltenders)," Holmgren said. "I think there is a way to work with Steve and his agent to get that salary down."
Historically, Holmgren does not believe in spending a lot of money on goaltenders. See: Leighton and Brian Boucher as a tandem in 2010. Bryzgalov joining the Flyers was at the mandate of chairman Ed Snider. With the salary cap decreasing to $64.3 million next season, you can bet on the Flyers not spending nearly 15 percent of the cap on goaltending.
Instead, the Flyers could amnesty Bryzgalov and bring in another young, affordable goaltender to work in tandem with Mason. At the very least, if the Flyers don't have interest in moving away from Bryzgalov, the question is: why Mason? There were a myriad of other less expensive backups available with fewer performance question marks.
Bringing in Mason opens a world of possibilities. Buckle your seatbelt. It will be fascinating to see how Bryzgalov responds to Wednesday's somewhat surprising move.
"I didn’t know (the Mason deal) was going to happen and, to be honest, even if I knew, I wouldn’t have talked to (Bryzgalov) anyway," Holmgren said. "His job is to stop the puck when he’s in the net. It’s not to worry about other things like that."
FLYERS SPENDING ON GOALTENDERS UNDER HOLMGREN
amount listed is salary cap hit:
Antero Niittymaki - 2008-09 - $1.375 million
Martin Biron - 2008-09 - $3.5 million
Michael Leighton - 2009-10 - $783,000
2010-12 - $1.55 million
2012-13 - $900,000
Sergei Bobrovsky - 2010-12 - $1.75 million
Ray Emery - 2009-10 - $1.5 million
Brian Boucher - 2009-11 - $925,000
2011-13 - $950,000
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers