It’s been two years since the Philadelphia Flyers’ miracle run to the Stanley Cup finals. The Flyers’ success was mostly due to backup goaltender Michael Leighton’s superb play.
A year later, Leighton showed why he was never more than a backup goaltender and faded back into the shadows as rookie Sergei Bobrovsky got the start. Bobrovsky had an excellent rookie campaign as he went 28-13-8 in 54 games played. He had a 2.59 goals against average and a 0.915 save percentage.
It looked like the Flyers found their savior, but in the playoffs, Bobrovsky showed he couldn’t handle the pressure and the Flyers had to cycle their three goalies time and time again throughout the playoffs before being swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins.
However, this past off-season, Flyers general manager, Paul Holmgren did what most thought was unthinkable. He traded two of his top four scorers: Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards. The trades freed up some cash allowing the Flyers to make a move that many, including myself, have been anticipating for a while. With the abundant cap room, the Flyers were able to lock up star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a long-term, nine-year contract, worth $51 million.
Bryzgalov started out as a backup goalie for J.S. Giguere for the Anaheim Ducks. After proving his worth in Anaheim, Bryzgalov went to the Phoenix Coyotes. It seems that a change of scenery was all Bryzgalov needed to break out of his shell, as he went 42-20-6 and 36-20-10 in the 2009-2010 and 2010-11 seasons respectively. The Flyers then traded for the rights to Bryzgalov’s contract before the start of free agency. The trade saw prospect Matt Clackson and a 2012 third round pick going to Phoenix in exchange for negotiating rights to Bryzgalov’s contract.
Another new acquisition that the Flyers traded for, Wayne Simmonds, is all too familiar with facing off against Ilya Bryzgalov. Simmonds played for the Los Angeles Kings before being dealt to the Flyers in the trade that saw Flyers’ captain Mike Richards going to the Kings for Simmonds and prospect Brayden Schenn. As the Kings are in the same division as the Coyotes, Simmonds is all too familiar with facing Bryzgalov and is just happy he’ll now be playing with him.
“I’ve played against Bryz for the last few years when he was on the Coyotes and he was lights out for them,” Simmonds said in an interview at the preseason game at the John Labett Centre. “He’s an unbelievable goaltender and I’m just happy to be playing with him.”
Though many would disagree, I think Holmgren made all the right moves this off-season. He may have traded away two of his star forwards, but in return he got two top prospects in Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, great role players in Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek and the star goalie the Flyers have been in dire need of since Ron Hextall.