Since the Flyers acquired backup goaltender Steve Mason from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, the buzz among local Philly beat writers is whether Bryzgalov or Mason will be the starter next season, and if this spells an abrupt end for Ilya in a Flyer jersey via compliance buyout.
Since the deadline, Mason has signed a 1-year extension at $1.5 million, making him a free agent after next season. Clearly the Flyers would like that Mason harness his skills again and become the goaltender everyone saw in his 08-09 Calder Trophy year. However, similar to the Hurricanes and Alex Semin, the Flyers are addressing a need (although Bryzgalov has been an absolute workhorse this season) on a low-risk one year deal. If Steve Mason fails, he will hit the free agent market in 2014 or remain with the Flyers in a backup role.
Assuming Ilya Bryzgalov returns, as he is currently under contract for 7 more years, it will make certain an interesting training camp come fall. Both goalies will do battle, and you know Steve Mason will be working with Jeff Reese as much as possible to bring his A-game. He has nothing to lose by giving it his all. He will either emerge as the starter or make a formidable backup, giving Bryzgalov more rest than Boucher and Leighton did this season.
To buy him out, or to not buy him out? That is the question. Depending on who you ask, the front office is split on whether or not to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov. While the beat writers seem more inclined to buy him out, there is no real known plan as of yet. Why should there be? The team has two months to decide this franchise-changing decision. Danny Briere has acknowledged that he will be bought out after this season in a transaction necessary for cap relief for the Flyers, not his lack of skills. Paul Holmgren will have to do some finagling with the roster; make the trades he wants to make and sign the guys he wants. If and only if Bryzgalov's contract interferes with Holmgren's plans should the Flyers buy out Mr. Universe. He is a good goalie despite being leaky at times. He is an incredibly hard worker who wanted to prove himself to the city of Philadelphia this year, and did so for a large part of the early season. With no rest, goalies get tired, especially in the condensed format of this season. Bryzgalov could not start all 48 games this year, but it was almost necessary before Steve Mason's acquisition because Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton were awful. His performance suffered as he was continuously bailing out the defense left and right night after night.
Give Ilya Bryzgalov another season, save the buyout for the following year. The Flyers could make it a trial year for both goalies.
If the Flyers do decide to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov, they need to bring in someone else who is capable of being an NHL starter. The only three goaltenders I see in the UFA market are capable of the job are Nicklas Backstrom (MIN), Evgeni Nabokov (NYI), and Mike Smith (PHX). The likelihood of any of these goalies being available for the Flyers is not high. Backstrom is probably a lock to re-up with the Wild unless they don't make the playoffs and would like to take a different course. I'm sure they will want a stopgap for Hackett, their prospect goalie, though. Evgeni Nabokov is 37 years old and may decide to retire, or he will resign with the Islanders, a team he probably feels has more promise right now. Mike Smith will probably stay in Phoenix, but is currently waiting for the status of the team's ownership. Unless the Flyers trade for his rights and make him an offer he cannot refuse, don't count on one of last year's playoff heroes playing in orange and black.
This leaves the Flyers with the less popular option of a goalie carousel, where you could see Ray Emery rejoin the Flyers or someone like Al Montoya or maybe Leland Irving / Thomas Greiss.
They could of course make a trade for a current backup like Jonathan Bernier. Maybe they would be interested in a certain goalie who has fallen out of favor in Vancouver??
We'll see folks. Hopefully Homer makes the right moves.