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Trade with Phoenix gives Flyers a chance to work out deal with Bryzgalov

For once, the Flyers actually might be answering the question that has clouded their crease since Ron Hextall was in his prime.

The Flyers have acquired the rights to Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. (Ross D. Franklin/AP file photo)
The Flyers have acquired the rights to Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. (Ross D. Franklin/AP file photo)Read more

For once, the Flyers actually might be answering the question that has clouded their crease since Ron Hextall was in his prime.

But general manager Paul Holmgren has his work cut out for him.

The Flyers acquired the negotiating rights to Phoenix Coyotes star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last night in exchange for the rights to Phantoms forward Matt Clackson, a 2012 third-round pick, and a conditional draft pick that Holmgren said "is not a first- or second-round pick."

The Flyers will have until July 1 to hammer out a deal with Bryzgalov, 31, the mint of this summer's free-agency class. Bryzgalov helped the Coyotes to 78 wins over the past two seasons.

It is believed that Bryzgalov, through Edmonton-based agent Rich Winter, of the Sports Corporation, is seeking a deal north of the $4.5 million he earned last season - and for a significant term.

A source close to the situation told the Daily News that Bryzgalov is seeking a 5-year deal worth somewhere from $30 million to $32 million, which would make him the fifth highest-paid goaltender in the NHL.

"We'll see what we can do," Holmgren said in a conference call with reporters. "I feel like he's got a lot of good years left in him. When you go into a negotiation like this, [and] you're dealing with the salary cap, you try to get to a number you can live with. We'll see."

Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said in a statement that it was "very clear" that the cash-strapped Coyotes were "not in a position to sign Ilya to a long-term contract."

Last June, the Flyers also acquired the negotiating rights to an accomplished Russian goaltender, San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, but weren't able to work out a deal. Nabokov ended up signing in Russia before returning to ink a deal with the Islanders.

"Bryzgalov is a top-flight goaltender in the NHL," said former Flyer Rick Tocchet, who coached Bryzgalov in Phoenix in 2008. "He's very good. He's big. I think if you put the Flyers' talent in front of him, he could get you to the Stanley Cup final no problem.

"If you look at what he did for his team in Phoenix, and what he did for them from October through April every year, he was easily the best goalie in the league."

Holmgren concurred.

"I think he's probably one of the reasons, if not the biggest reason, why they became a playoff team over the past 2 years," Holmgren said. "You can make the argument that he's among the top 10 goalies in the league, if not higher. If we do [sign him], I think we'll have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league."

Some questioned whether Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky, both Russians, could coexist on the same team. Holmgren said he was sure to pick the brain of Chris Pronger and Sean O'Donnell, who played with Bryzgalov in Anaheim, where he won a Stanley Cup as Jean-Sebastian Giguere's backup.

"I think the fact that they're both Russian can't hurt," Holmgren said.

Tocchet said there would be no question that Bryzgalov, who played more than 65 games in each of the last three seasons, would "be the man."

"Bobrovsky could be the understudy for a couple years," Tocchet said. "Bryzgalov wasn't just the best available. He is the best out there - even if he wasn't available."

The Flyers cannot sign Bryzgalov to a deal before next year's salary-cap figures are announced some time after the Stanley Cup finals end. It is expected to increase from $59.4 million to upwards of $63.5 million.

That would give Holmgren enough room to make another deal to open up space, assuming they can meet Bryzgalov's price.

A likely target to be moved would be Jeff Carter's $5.27 million cap hit, before his 11-year, $58 million deal kicks in on July 1. But Holmgren could choose to not re-sign Ville Leino and part ways with free agents Nik Zherdev, Dan Carcillo and O'Donnell to barely squeeze under and fill holes with Phantoms replacements.

Unlike last summer, Holmgren hopes this deal will buy him more time to negotiate and not force the move of a high-priced player like Simon Gagne for little return after going over the salary cap.

"Ideally, before you get to the [June 24] draft, you'd like to know if you have a deal in place," Holmgren said. "Then we'll see what we can do at the draft in order to make some adjustments. The more you get into the summer, the more difficult it becomes to move money. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to field a good team. We want to win the Stanley Cup. We're going to give it our best shot."