The Philadelphia Flyers started the season with a significantly shaken up roster. The plethora of moves they made in the off-season rocked the hockey world.
Having shipped out centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to clear salary cap space to sign former Phoenix Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51-million contract, it was assumed the Flyers had finally addressed the goaltending problems that had impeded their Stanley Cup aspirations for years.
But with the final quarter of the regular season fast approaching, goaltending remains a significant issue for the team.
Though the Flyers sit among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference and are the third-highest scoring club in the league, they also sit 23rd overall in goals-against per game this season.
Among playoff contenders, only the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators fare worse in that department.
Bryzgalov has struggled to adjust to a more demanding hockey market than he’s been used to in his NHL career. While he has a winning record (19-11-6, with two shutouts), his 2.78 goals-against average and .900 save percentage are not the numbers of an elite goalie the Flyers thought they were getting when they signed him last summer.
Sophomore Sergei Bobrovsky (11-5-1) has done marginally better, with a 2.70 GAA and .911 SP.
The goalie struggles have sparked speculation GM Paul Holmgren will seek a steadier goalie on a short-term or expiring contract.
Though there are some options (Minnesota’s Josh Harding, Winnipeg’s Chris Mason, the Islanders’ Evgeni Nabokov) available to Holmgren, it would be perceived as a panic move to go that route, not to mention the embarrassment of investing in Bryzgalov only to bail on him after little more than a half-season.
There’s also no guarantee any of those options will do a better job than the current tandem.
Besides, Holmgren has a more pressing problem, which is finding a suitable short-term replacement for defenseman Chris Pronger, sidelined for the remainder of the season and the playoffs by post-concussion symptoms. If Pronger is forced to retire because of his symptoms, this issue will become more long-term.
The Flyers haven’t done too badly defensively, giving up the ninth-fewest shots-against this season, while their penalty kill ranks 15th overall. It’s obvious, however, they miss Pronger’s experience, skills and nasty physical edge.
Holmgren possesses considerable depth at forward, which he can used as trade bait for a top defenseman.
Philadelphia fans and pundits have gazed longingly toward Nashville Predators pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Ryan Suter in hopes he’ll be placed on the trade block, but it doesn’t appear that will happen.
Last month there was talk of Holmgren shipping left winger James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn, but he and Leafs GM Brian Burke denied that rumor.
It could take shopping a good young forward like van Riemsdyk to land a quality defenseman, but considering he’s sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, there’s little chance of that happening before the trade deadline.
If Holmgren cannot bring himself to move one of his young forwards, he could make a lesser deal by dangling prospects and/or draft picks for a rental blueliner. Montreal’s Hal Gill, Carolina’s Jaroslav Spacek and Bryan Allen, or Winnipeg’s Johnny Oduya could be options.
In the past, Holmgren has shown a willingness to make major deals and he could still surprise with a significant addition by Feb. 27. That being said, he won’t pursue another goaltender and given the lack of quality talent available in the trade market, if he does trade for a defenseman, it will likely be a small deal for a No. 4 or 5 blueliner.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.