For the past 20 or so years, there was a long held organizational belief in the Flyers that you do not need the best goaltending in the world to win the Stanley Cup. For the past 20 or so years, there has been pushing from the a large part of the fanbase that yes, goaltending is necessary to succeed in the NHL. Obviously, these are two very different philosophies, and while it is difficult to say one is completely the way to go, there is one thing that should not have been done. And that is exactly what the Flyers did this off-season. They gave Ilya Bryzgalov a 9-year, $51M contract.
This is not going to be a post about how much I miss Richards and Carter. Those are changes I can accept. This is not going to even be a post largely centered around the salary cap, although inevitably, it will be mentioned.
What this post aims to do is to talk about goaltending, its importance in hockey, and just how good some goalies really are. And just how wrong the Flyers were to pay Ilya Bryzgalov what they did.
Since the 2011 Stanley Cup, when Tim Thomas won it, everyone has been saying how this proved once and for all you need goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. There is no denying it. Tim Thomas is a fabulous goaltender. He is by far the best goalie in the NHL today, and with good reason. But it is worth mentioning that even though he shattered numerous save percentage records, the Bruins still needed to win three Game 7s to advance and were one unfortunate bounce away from being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
In the post lockout era, Tim Thomas is not the rule. He is the exception to it. Of the six starting goalies to win the Stanley Cup since the lockout, only two of them can so much as say they are above league average. While those goalies, Thomas and Giguere, are very good goalies, to mention them first is to bury the lead. Four teams won the Stanley Cup on below average to average goaltending. I have talked about this before on here so I will not go into it again, but here is more on Tim Thomas and the Stanley Cup winning goalies in the post-lockout era if you missed the post a month ago.
It is a belief the Flyers have not had good goaltending in twenty years. That falsehood is often linked to the Flyers 35-year Cup drought as evidence that the Flyers need goaltending to win. What many may not realize is that in the past 10 years alone, the Flyers have had capable goaltending numerous goaltending.
Example number 1: Roman Cechmanek. Now people despise Cechmanek because he became such a headcase, but if you look at it, the guy was a great goaltender. Not only was he a Vezina nominee, but his career even strength save percentage is .931. That's very good. Cechmanek was an elite NHL goaltender. But unfortunately, his headcase-iness cost him a very productive career in the NHL.
Example number 2: Martin Biron. Would you believe it if I told you the Flyers had a goalie whose numbers were equivalent to those of Martin Brodeur? Well, they did. And his name was Martin Biron. Before you completely blast this as sensationalized bullshit, consider the following. Martin Brodeur and Martin Biron have the same even strength save percentage, the same penalty kill percentage, and almost the same total save percentage (h/t Geoff Detweiler). So why will Martin Brodeur go down as one of the best goaltenders to ever play and Martin Biron will struggle with being remembered five years when his playing days are done? The answer is Brodeur's longevity and the fact that the New Jersey Devils teams Martin Brodeur has played on all have been really fucking good. All Brodeur needs to do is be his above average self, and a real good defensive team turns into one of the most vaunted defensive teams in recent league history. Biron has not had such good fortune. Make no mistake about it, Brodeur's longevity separates him from the pack. But make no mistake about it, if you isolate individual performances, Biron is on Brodeur's level.
We saw last year what a good defensive team can do regardless of who is goalie last year when the Flyers carried Michael Leighton's five-hole all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. We saw this year what a complete team breakdown can do to a team in the post-season. The Flyers got above average goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher all through the season, but come playoff time with one of their 2-way forwards injured (Carter) and their best defender (Pronger) injured, even Tim Thomas would have been made to look like a sieve with that team in front of him.
When the off-season came around, the Flyers (namely Ed Snider) decided he had had enough of "mediocre goaltending" (even though as I showed above, there were times when it was far better than mediocre) and he persuaded Paul Holmgren to do whatever he could to sign Bryzgalov. And sadly, he did just that.
Why the Flyers did what they did I have no idea. They waited before the market was set last year and overpaid Michael Leighton on a 2-year, $3.1M contract. As it turned out, better goalies went for less as the off-season went on. The Flyers jumped the gun, and in doing so, overpaid a guy they had absolutely zero business overpaying.
The same thing happened this year, only on a far more extreme level. The Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a long-term deal at a cap hit of $5,666,667. The Washington Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun, a better goaltender, for a $1,500,000 cap hit. That is a difference of $4,166,667. That is just unexcuseable on the part of the Flyers. There is no market for goalies. They could have waited it out and gotten their man for a very, very, very cheap price. But no. They jumped the gun. And they will pay for it dearly in the next nine years. Even if the Flyers win a Cup with Bryzgalov between the pipes, that contract will still be a glaring mark of negativity. The Flyers had options. They could have orchestrated a trade for Semyon Varlamov, who I would have loved on the Flyers. They could have signed Tomas Vokoun for pennies. But instead, they payed Ilya Bryzgalov every penny he wanted. And now they are stuck with him. Likely for the next nine years. The only way this signing is not a mistake is if Bryzgalov does for the next 9 years what Tim Thomas did last year in Boston. And that is all but impossible. Bryzgalov is a good goalie, but there are those in the NHL better than him. And Bryzgalov does not deserve to be paid that money.
Especially when one of those goalies better than him is making $4,166,667 less.