Ilya Bryzgalov; When is Anti-Value Acceptable?

By now you’ve probably heard, but the Phoenix Coyotes traded the negotiating rights for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia in exchange for a minor league winger and two future draft picks.

There are a lot of reasons this doesn’t make sense for the Flyers, and only one reason it does.  First, we’ll look at why it doesn’t.

Bryzgalov is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.  This means that if the Flyers do not sign the goalie to an extension before that date, then the trade brought them no value.  Sure, they could sign him on July 10, but they could have done that anyway, without dealing away anything at all.

So the Flyers must feel pretty confident that they can sign Bryz, or they wouldn’t have made the trade just for the right to negotiate terms with him.  This means they are confident that they will come to financial terms with a man who reportedly is asking for $7 – 8 million a year for eight to ten years.  You didn’t have to watch him quit in the playoffs against Detroit to know that these terms are ridiculous on their face.  And yet, Philly wanted to be able to negotiate with the guy.  Maybe Bryzgalov was setting outrageous prices just to get himself out of Phoenix, but that doesn’t really make sense, because he was free to leave on July 1 anyway.  All of this leads to the strong possibility that Bryzgalov actually believes he is worth being paid as one of the top players in the league.

One end-all reason that the Flyers should not have traded anything for the right to attempt to be rational with an irrational person is that in today’s world of a hard salary cap in the NHL, teams must always be looking for value.  How in the world is there any value at all in shelling out even $6 million a year to a goaltender who has never won anything?  Sure, he led two mediocre Phoenix teams to playoff appearances, but he went 3-7 in those games and twice was eliminated on home ice.  The much more valuable idea would be to find a cheaper goaltender that is worth more per dollar in terms of likelihood to bring a Stanley Cup.  Maybe someone like Semyon Varlamov, who despite being in the top five in the NHL in both GAA and Save %, earned less than a million dollars last year.  Varlamov is a restricted free agent on July 1, and it seems has run out of time in Washington.  I get the idea that if you add a very talented goaltender like Bryzgalov to a team that seems to have its only weakness between the pipes, the product could be a Stanley Cup championship.  But anything shy of the Cup would make any contract in the area code of what Bryzgalov is looking for a terrible one.

But that is, of course, the rub.  If the Flyers don’t figure out their goaltending situation, it’s nearly certain that they will not win a Stanley Cup with this excellent group of skaters that they have locked up through next year and beyond.  Therefore, a Cup championship to success-starved Philadelphia would almost justify any amount of money that would be paid to Bryzgalov, and the goalie and his agent know that.  They are undoubtedly using the fact that Bryzgalov fills a glaring need to their advantage at the bargaining table.  But if the Flyers cave and pay the man anything remotely close to what he’s asking for, everyone better understand that 2nd through 30th places are completely unacceptable.

Beyond the question of whether the Flyers want Bryzgalov at such a high price is the question of how they are going to manage to stay under the cap.  Per, the Flyers have less than half a million dollars of cap space for next season, and this with only 18 players signed.  Eleven of those players are scheduled to make over $3 million in 2011-12, and not all of them are worth that.  It is without question that in order to sign Bryzgalov, or anyone else to fill out the roster, some of these big contracts are going to have to either be moved or bought out.  Jeff Carter, with his $5.27 million number, is the one that comes up in all the trade rumors, but I can’t understand why any other team would take the center on at anywhere near full price.  Believe it or not, Carter has eleven more years on his contract.  Again, the value just isn’t there.  Philly would have the same problem trying to move Daniel Briere and his $6.5 million deal, which has four more seasons left on it.  There are lesser players to move, like Kris Versteeg ($3 million) or Andrej Meszaros ($4 million), but in the end I’m not sure I see the salary dump happening — at least not enough of one to free up the amount Bryzgalov requires.

We’ll see what happens, but I wouldn’t blame the Flyers for letting Bryzgalov walk away from the table on July 1.  I’d only blame them for giving anything up to find out what everyone already knew.

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