Why an Ilya Bryzgalov/Rick DiPietro trade would be the best thing ever

Jonathan Willis
January 10 2013 12:59PM

Photo: Michael Miller/Wikimedia

If the Philadelphia Flyers really are – as Wednesday’s edition of the Roberto Luongo rumour mill suggests – interested in buying out Ilya Bryzgalov, they should stop and not do that. I’m not saying they need to keep Ilya Bryzgalov – just that if it is within their power they should trade him to the New York Islanders and buyout Rick DiPietro instead.

Before I get into the case for the trade, I need to acknowledge the hurdle: Ilya Bryzgalov’s no-move clause. Plenty of hockey players have no interest in playing for the Islanders, and Bryzgalov may well reason that a buyout is preferable to a trade because he’ll still collect two-thirds of the money he’s owed and he’ll be free to go find a job with another NHL team or a KHL club. If he’s willing, though, this deal would make sense for both the Flyers and Islanders.

The basic case for a Bryzgalov-for-DiPietro+ trade is straight-forward: the money left on their contracts. This is the state of each player’s current pacts following the conclusion of the 2013 season:

  • Ilya Bryzgalov: Seven years, with a total of $34.5 million in salary (average per year: $4.8 million) and an annual cap hit of $5.67 million.
  • Rick DiPietro: Eight years, with a total of $36 million in salary (average per year: $4.5 million) and an annual cap hit of $4.5 million.

For the Flyers, the difference between these two players on a compliance buyout is tiny. Since buyouts are for two-thirds of the remaining dollars on a contract spread evenly over twice the years of the remaining contract, it’s an extra million dollars in total money and the Flyers have two more years to pay it. It doesn’t take much in a trade to cover those million dollars, and the New York Islanders should be very, very willing to make it worth the Flyers’ while.

As things stand, the Islanders are looking at the glum prospect of paying Rick DiPietro $4.5 million for the next eight years. DiPietro has played less than 10 games for the Islanders in three of the last four seasons, and when he has played he’s been awful: in 26 2010-11 games he posted a 0.886 SV%. Just once since the lockout (in 2006-07) as he come close to justifying his annual salary. DiPietro’s contract is the millstone ‘round the neck of a franchise that has struggled terribly both on and off the ice the last few years.

Ilya Bryzgalov, on the other hand, is an excellent if eccentric goaltender. In three of his last five seasons, his save percentage has topped the 0.920 mark. Even in 2011-12, a season where he was frequently criticized, he managed a near-average 0.909 SV%. He’s a good goalie. He’s not the franchise savior the Flyers thought they were paying for, and he seems wildly ill-suited to the Philadelphia media market, but he’s nowhere near DiPietro’s league in terms of having no chance of living up to his contract.

That contract also should suit the Islanders, a cap floor team if ever there was one. Bryzgalov’s annual salary is nearly $1 million less than his annual cap hit. The three most expensive years of his deal will all be in the past by 2014, after which his salary never tops $6 million/year at any point.

As for Bryzgalov’s occasional issues with the media, he’d still be in a huge market (New York) but he’d be with the Islanders. Not only is there plenty of cover for wackiness on the team that promoted its backup goaltender to general manager, but the club doesn’t get the same sort of coverage that a team like the Flyers does.

To sum-up: the Flyers pay a tiny (by NHL standards) bit of money - $1 million over 16 years – and add prospects/picks/players for their trouble (they could probably recoup whatever they dealt away to acquire Roberto Luongo). The New York Islanders trade away the single-worst contract in the league for a guy on a poor contract who can actually play, end the revolving door between the pipes of the last few seasons, and make their cap hit a little larger than their budget. It’s a trade that would seem to make great sense for both teams.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.