The Philadelphia Flyers did not got the expected return on that nine-year, $51 million contract lavished on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last year.
He ran hot and cold all season. Which goaltender will Philly get this season? Will it get the guy who allowed 18 goals during a four-game span in October?
Or will it see more of the Bryzgalov who went 10-2-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and four shutouts in March.
He produced a shutout stretch of 249 minutes and 43 seconds that month. On the other hand, his playoffs took an unfortunate turn. He posted a 5-6 record with a 3.46 GAA and .887 save percentage.
His bottom line was unimpressive: 33 victories, 10th most in the NHL, rankings of 21st in GAA (2.48) and 33rd in save percentage (.909). The Flyers are counting on a much better showing this season.
Flyers star Claude Giroux believes Bryzgalov should be much more prepared for all the hockey fanfare in the City of Brotherly Love. “Obviously next year he's gonna know what to expect and if I had to predict anything he's gonna be the best goalie in the league next year,” Giroux told a Philadelphia radio station. “I'm pretty sure that's what's gonna happen.”
Bryzgalov is just one NHL goaltender on the spot this year. Here are some others:
Roberto Luongo, Canucks: He was OK during the regular season, posting decent numbers (31-14-8, 2.41 GAA and .919 save percentage). But Corey Schneider supplanted him as the No. 1 goaltender during last spring’s playoffs. He is ready to take change this season, too. Schneider’s time has come. Trouble is, Luongo, 33, and the remainder of his 12-year, $64 million remain in place. Efforts to trade him at the NHL Draft failed. Toronto could use a marquee goaltender Luongo would accept a move to Florida, but thus far no team has been willing to meet Vancouver’s asking price. If this uncertainly drags into the regular season, will Luongo remained focused?
Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins: Many experts favored Pittsburgh to win the Stanley Cup last spring. Then the Penguins lost a crazy first-round series to the Flyers. Fleury took plenty of the blame with his stunningly bad performance (4.63 GAA in six games). That breakdown led to the arrival of Tomas Vokoun to back-up Fleury and potentially press him for playing time. Another offseason factor was the departure of outstanding defensive defenseman Zbynek Michalek. But . . . Fleury won a career-high 42 games last season while posting a 2.36 GAA. The Penguins believe he will be fine with additional rest during the season, but Vokoun is more than capable of taking over as the No. 1 man if necessary.
Ryan Miller, Sabres: Bruins power forward Milan Lucic knocked him off his game with his “accidental” bump last season. Miller lost time to a concussion and didn’t look like his old self in December (.893 save percentage) and January (.901). Finally he hit stride in his last 22 games, posting a 15-4-3 record and moving his season ratios (2.54 and .916) back in line with his career norms. He was especially good in February with a .938 save percentage and a 1.85 GAA. The big-spending Sabres are looking to climb back into Stanley Cup contention this season and Miller is the key figure in that quest.
Anders Lindback, Lightning: Tampa Bay has more than enough firepower to contend for the Stanley Cup. But its goaltending blew up last season, with old-timer Dwayne Roloson finally hitting the wall and Mathieu Garon and Dustin Tokarski failing to pick up the pieces. Enter Lindback, the rangy and promising netminder stuck behind Pekka Rinne in Nashville. The Lightning are betting that he can become The Answer. But it is difficult to assess Lindback based on his small (16 games) sample that produced a 2.42 GAA and .912 save percentage for the Predators last season. He has played in just 38 NHL games overall, producing so-so ratios (2.53/.914.)
Tuukka Rask, Bruins: With “Free Citizen” Tim Thomas taking a year off from hockey, Rask graduates into the starting role after his lengthy apprenticeship. Great things are expected, given his 2.20 GAA, a .926 save percentage and 11 shutouts in 102 NHL games. But last season he posted a middling 54.5 percent Quality Start percentage, reminding us that back-ups don’t always settle into a consistently high level of performance upon graduation to regular work.
Devan Dubnyk, Oilers: Edmonton is loaded with explosive offensive talent up front and promising defensemen on the blue line. But the playoffs have remained out of reach for the Young Men of Oil. This team is overdue to break out and much of that responsibility could fall in Dubnyk, a still-developing netminder who has posted mediocre ratios (2.85 GAA and a .910 save percentage) in 101 NHL games. If Dubnyk can finally blossom and replace 900-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, this franchise could finally take off. He showed signs of taking that step during his final 13 starts last season, posting a 2.04 GAA and .933 save percentage down the stretch.
Corey Crawford, Blackhawks: The former Stanley Cup champions paid the price for erratic goaltending last season. Neither Crawford nor Ray Emery sustained quality play for defensive-minded coach Joel Quenneville. Crawford appeared to be an emerging star two years ago (33-18-6 record, 2.30 GAA, .917 save percentage) but last year his numbers turned ugly (2.72, .903). He allowed three or more goals 27 times in 57 games. Quenneville yanked him from seven starts. Crawford allowed lots of bad-angle goals and he appeared tentative while attempting to stop breakaway. Blackhawks management have expressed public support for Crawford, but experts wonder if Stan Bowman could yet make a move to fortify his team in goal.
Niklas Backstrom, Wild: After committing about $200 million to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Minnesota needs its goaltender to regain the form that allowed him to post 2.32 GAA and .922 save percentage from 2007 to 2009. Staying and consistent proved problematic for him last season. He had three good months, October (3-3-2, 2.30 and .912.), November (6-2-0, 1.82 and .948.) and February (4-5-2 2.36 and .920.) The team can’t afford such intermittent success this season.
Jonas Hiller, Ducks: He suffered as the team suffered early last season. His numbers for November (2-6-3, 3.54 GAA, .895 save percentage) and December (3-6-2, 3.31, .896) were way off his career norms. Overall he led the NHL losses and finished tied for the second-most goals allowed. On the other hand he started 73 games and proved his earlier health problems were behind him. Now the Ducks are hoping that Hiller and the rest of their cornerstone players can start well and set aside last season’s fiasco.