LAST DECEMBER, Ilya Bryzgalov strolled into the visitor's locker room at Toronto's Air Canada Centre and asked the throng of assembled media: "How much does marble cost, per square foot, in Canada?"
Bryzgalov, the quirky but affable Russian who has never been afraid of a microphone, was asking about marble prices for his sprawling home being built in Moscow.
The question, while simple enough, was obnoxious.
But Bryzgalov has never hidden the fact that he wants to be paid - not only as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, but also among the top skaters in the NHL. That's why he hired a new agent, Rich Winter, and that's why his talks with Phoenix were so brief.
"I never felt at any time we were remotely close on the same wavelength," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney told the Arizona Republic. "We were prepared to pay him well. But he was looking to become . . . one of the top paid players in the game. I just felt, between the dollars and the term, it just made no sense for us."
Paul Holmgren dealt a third-round pick and the rights to Matt Clackson, a player the Coyotes have no interest in signing, on Tuesday for an exclusive negotiating window with Bryzgalov a full 23 days before the remaining 28 teams in the NHL get a crack at him.
Bryzgalov wants top dollar. And if I'm Holmgren, I'd swallow hard, open Ed Snider's gilded checkbook and lure the game's top free-agent goaltender to sign on the dotted line before the Entry Draft starts on June 24. No matter if it takes upward of $25 million or $30 million over 4 or 5 years do it.
"I would love very much to be a part of the team that brings the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia," Bryzgalov said yesterday in a statement through his agent. "It would be a great honor. I am pleased the Flyers thought enough of me to make the trade with the Coyotes. Philadelphia is a great city, a great organization and a great team with a rich history. I am looking forward to meeting with Paul Holmgren to discuss the possibility of us working together for many years to come."
The exact dollar figure is more or less irrelevant. Signing Bryzgalov, finally a goaltender who is still in his prime, will satisfy the craving of not only a rabid fan base bleeding for a competent netminder, but also an owner who has longed for another Stanley Cup parade.
For a team with depth at every position - and in an organization that has more or less never put much stock or money into its netminder - goaltending would no longer be the scapegoat.
The rest, including the Flyers' consequential moves to get under the salary cap, can be worked out - even if that means parting ways with a piece that you'd rather not.
First would be Sergei Bobrovsky. Last season, Bobrovsky played 60 games, including playoffs, as a 22-year-old rookie. Bryzgalov has not played less than 65 games in each of the last three seasons. What would happen to Bobrovsky's workload? And development?
"If we can sign Ilya," Holmgren said on Tuesday, "he's a guy that is used to the workload. He played 70 in Phoenix . . . Maybe he can play 65 here. With I assume easier travel than they have in Phoenix, maybe he can play more than 70."
Even 60 starts would cut Bobrovsky down to just 22. Bobrovsky is not going to sit patiently and wait for Bryzgalov to play out the term of his deal. More importantly, on a cap-strapped team, does it make sense to make Bobrovsky the second highest-paid backup in the NHL?
Without a bonus cushion on the salary cap, Bobrovsky's seemingly benign $850,000 salary will carry a $1.75 million hit next year. That would seemingly preclude an injury-prone Michael Leighton and his $1.55 million hit, too.
For the first time in his career, Bobrovsky cannot be sent to Adirondack to continue his development. According to Article 13.4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Bobrovsky has played 60 games in the NHL (including playoffs) and is now susceptible to waivers and re-entry waivers. He would surely be plucked from the Flyers in either case.
Instead, the Flyers could trade Bobrovsky - whom they still call "the goalie of the future" - in exchange for high draft picks or a top prospect to help restock a barren farm cupboard.
When you consider that the Flyers could use the extra $700K from his salary - as compared to an inexpensive backup like Brian Boucher at $950K - to fill other roster spots, the argument comes full circle. That $700K is a large chunk of a guy like Darroll Powe's salary. Powe is a restricted free agent, a player that Holmgren called one of the most underrated in the league.
To make other room under the cap, which is expected to increase more than $4 million to $63.5 million, the Flyers could choose to keep Jeff Carter and not re-sign Ville Leino, Nik Zherdev, Dan Carcillo or Sean O'Donnell. Or Holmgren could move Carter, before his 11-year, $58 million extension kicks in on July 1, and nab a first-round pick, prospects, and have the cap space to re-sign a few of those players.
The smooth move would be to head into the June 24 draft in St. Paul, Minn., with an unannounced deal for Bryzgalov already inked. That wouldn't tip Holmgren's hand for what he has to unload, which would decrease any return value - whether it be for Carter or Bobrovsky - as he did in that uncomfortable situation with Simon Gagne.
As Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas are pointing out in the Stanley Cup finals, it all starts with the goaltending. The same is true for the Flyers this summer. If Bryzgalov is worth 5 expensive years, Bobrovsky can't be the "goalie of the future" at the same time.
The gut here is that Bryzgalov is skating in a Flyers uniform come September. With Snider's checkbook, Bryzgalov could buy a lot of marble. And if he's a rock in net, maybe even some hardware.
Here is how to shape the Flyers' 20-man roster against the expected salary cap (numbers are what is counted toward the cap, not necessarily the full salary):
Daniel Briere, $6,500,000
Mike Richards, $5,750,000
Jeff Carter, $5,272,727
Scott Hartnell, $4,200,000
Claude Giroux, $3,750,000
Kris Versteeg, $3,083,333
James Van Riemsdyk, $1,654,166
Jody Shelley, $1,100,000
*Andreas Nodl, $950,000
*Darroll Powe, $850,000
Ben Holmstrom, $750,000
Blair Betts, $700,000
Kimmo Timonen, $6,333,333
Chris Pronger, $4,921,429
Andrej Meszaros, $4,000,000
Matt Carle, $3,437,500
Braydon Coburn, $3,200,000
*Danny Syvret, $525,000
Ilya Bryzgalov, $5,500,000
*Brian Boucher, $975,000
Salary Cap: $63,500,000
Cap Space Available: $47,512
*Free agent re-signed with small raise.
Unsigned: Nik Zherdev, $2,000,000; Sean O'Donnell, $1,300,000; Dan Carcillo, $1,025,000.
Minors: Michael Leighton, $1,550,000; Johan Backlund, $900,000; Oskars Bartulis, $600,000.