As many expected, few performances last season got as much attention as the struggles of Ilya Bryzgalov did in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He wasn’t downright terrible, just terribly inconsistent.
Up until the spring, we didn’t see much from Bryz that indicated he was worthy of the decade-long contract he had signed with the Flyers after he was acquired by the Phoenix Coyotes. Those who laughed at the deal initially continued to chuckle throughout the season.
The transition to a new city, a small market to a large one, and away from Dave Tippett‘s system, proved a hard one for Bryzgalov to manage. His numbers were among the worst in his career, with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 save percentage. The numbers aren’t completely awful, but they aren’t very good either.
Those figures are also likely somewhat inflated by the fact that he was absolutely dominant down the stretch in March, where he posted four of his six shutouts, allowing an absurd 18 goals in 13 games.
As much as Bryzgalov has been held under a microscope, it could be even worse for him and the Flyers if they don’t improve the team in front of him before a new season gets underway.
The blue line in front of him was shaky even before losing Matt Carle to free agency and potentially Chris Pronger to his career-ending concussion issues. The defensive corps are quite questionable, though we’ll have to wait and see if they’ll be as bad as advertised. Regardless, if they do struggle, the Flyers won’t have as much offense to bail them out.
Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk are both gone. The Flyers are going to be relying on a great deal of young talent to provide the offensive punch. If they can’t take the next step, they’ll have some trouble scoring, which would make life very difficult for Bryzgalov.
Between a shaky blue line and a somewhat questionable offense, Bryzgalov is being faced with the prospect of having to shoulder the load, a task almost no one would likely feel he is capable of managing.
Of course, this is total worst case scenario. The team, overall, is worse on paper but that doesn’t automatically indicate that they will be worse and that Bryz is doomed for the upcoming season. Who knows, he could come out and buoy this team and come back strong after requiring a season to settle in.
But the chance for ad ecline is still there. And it’s a scary thought for the Flyers, especially since they have Michael Leighton to fall back on, rather than Sergei Bobrovsky this time around.