Bryz's Agent, Ritch Winter, Has Some Beef with Our Blueline

Created 5 years 89 days ago
by Michael DeNicola

Tags: Compliance Buyouts Ilya Bryzgalov Philadelphia Flyers Ritch Winter
Views: 2729

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, June 27, 2013 ---

I'd like to start off by saying that Ilya Bryzgalov's agent, Ritch Winter, is absolutely phenomenal in his field. Professional sports agents do not get to where they are today without an ability to carry a confident demeanor and deliver convincing arguments with a strong sense of egoism. After all, in one way or another, they're the ultimate salesmen, and they're constantly attempting to sell their clients above market value. I do not blame men like Winter; professional sports simply cannot function without representation. It brings a balanced level in the contractual world of each of their respective universes. 

With that said, this past Wednesday, Ritch was welcomed on Edmonton's 630 CHED sports-talk radio. Winter cared to share his opinion on the Philadelphia Flyers and their choice to spend a compliance buyout on his client, Ilya Bryzgalov, only two-years into his nine-year, $51M contract. [

His point of focus was on the Flyers' systems approach, mostly defensively and transitionally. 

"It's terrible in Philadelphia for a goaltender," Winter said. "They block shots. They don't open up lanes. Goaltenders can't see the puck. The goalie coach [Jeff Reese] has no authority. The head coach [Peter Laviolette] doesn't listen to him. It's an issue and it's made it a challenge."

I cannot exactly agree or disagree with Winter on whether Laviolette chooses to listen to Reese or not. I am not in the team's dressing room, nor do I attend their practices or team meetings. I do not speak with the players, coaches or management crew. Thus, I cannot, nor can any fan, draw an opinion over the matter that stretches beyond speculation. So, I digress.

Winter had more to say...

"'They pay you $51 million dollars because they seem to think I was good at stopping the puck and then they never let you see it.' … Ilya Bryzgalov comes in there as a Vezina Trophy nominee and he really struggles, but plays pretty well …

"And Sergei Bobrovsky, who struggled, leaves Philadelphia, goes to Columbus and wins the Vezina Trophy. Yeah, Ilya has to take some responsibility for his performance … at the end of the day, I think there is more wrong with Philadelphia's goaltending than just the goaltending.

"As you and I know, goaltending is about opening up lanes, and defensive communication with goaltenders. It's about backchecking. It's about speed. It's about transition game. It's not just about the puck.

"But at the foundation of it all, if Dominik Hasek, couldn't see the puck, as much as I admired him, and represented him for his entire career, as much as Dom was the greatest goalie who ever lived, if he can't see it, he can't stop it."

Winter did not say anything that's not true. Bryzgalov is *good* at stopping pucks, the Flyers' defensive communication is terrible -- that much can be observed on its own -- and hockey is not all about the puck. Fundamentally, especially defensively, the Flyers were flawed. Everyone shares responsibility for last season's failures; players, coaches and managers alike.

But still, none of that excuses Ritch Winter's client from under-performing. And here's why....

Overall, Bryzgalov's contract demanded $5,666,667 off of our payroll annually. For that sort of money being paid to a netminder, the implication is that the goalie will play to a consistent, elite degree. For that sort of money, your goaltender is paid to be less dependent on the his surrounding intangibles and be your team's last line of ultimate defense. 

Does any of that sound like Ilya Bryzgalov? If you answered yes, then you don't just wear rose-colored glasses; you own and operate the entire industry. 

For $5,666,667, you're paid to adapt around a team's shot-blocking defensive system. In fact, I don't see New York Rangers goal keeper, Henrik Lundqvist, having a problem with that strategy. Last season, the Rangers ranked 9th in the League in blocked shots, and with Hank's unbelievable play in net, the Broadway Blueshirts ranked 4th in the League in goals-allowed per game. 

In the 2011-12 season, NYR ranked 3rd in blocked shots and 3rd in goals-allowed per game. Through that same season, Philadelphia ranked 10th in blocked shots and 20th in goals-allowed per game with Bryzgalov in the cage.

Last season, Philadelphia ranked 2nd in blocked shots and 23rd in goals-allowed per game. That's horrific, but then again.... so was our defense. 

In 2012-13, the San Jose Sharks finished the season leading the League in blocked shots. They also finished 6th in goals-allowed per game. Antti Niemi recorded a .924 SV% in 43-games played, and he's earning ~1.9 million cap dollars less than Bryzgalov.

I am not trying to say that blocking pucks is a team's ticket to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers were a prime example why there's more to the strategy than that. Taking lanes and line of sight away from your goaltender is definitely a negative, but if there's enough evidence to prove that.... then there's enough evidence to prove a goalie can adjust to it. Especially when that's exactly what they're being paid big money to do.

If Winter wants to focus on incalculable aspects of the game like transitioning and backchecking, then why can't an observer highlight Ilya Bryzgalov's attitude? How it affected the morale of the team, how it caused distractions, and how Ilya's mouth never, ever made a situation any better?

I realize the hockey media in this town caused a lot of the circus atmosphere around Bryzgalov, but there has been an explosive amount of reports that Bryzgalov's teammates simply didn't like him; both in Phoenix's dressing room and in ours. 

When a team doesn't have confidence in their under-performing goaltender, then they try to overcompensate by stepping in front of shots. When a subpar defense is taking themselves out of position to block pucks, then the team is destined to fail. 

It's a cyclical nightmare, and Ilya proved that he wasn't close to being the answer. 

But if I may backtrack to the relevancy of recorded hockey statistics, I'd like to point out Bryzgalov's utter uselessness in the shootout. 

When the Flyers went into the extra frame, every hometown fan was praying to the hockey gods that we'd score an overtime game-winning goal because we knew if our boys went to the shootout, it was implicitly an 'L' in the loss column. 

I hate the shootout. You hate the shootout. We all hate the goddamn shootout. But it's here to stay for the casual fan, and it's an evil, necessary part of the game today. 

In the shootout, there is no shot-blocking. There are no lanes taken away from your netminder by a big-assed, backchecking teammate. There's just the goalie, the opposing skater, and the puck. 

Ilya's record in the shootout is detestable. The same could be said for his percentage on breakaways and oddman chances against his cage, but for the sake of argument... let's just stick with shootouts. 

Last season, the Flyers ranked dead last in the shootout with a .444 SV%. In Bryzgalov's first tour with the Flyers, 2011-12, Philadelphia ranked 21st in shootout wins, tallying a .485 SV%. 

Bark about our defensive system all you want, Ritch, your client, a man paid $51M, struggled mightily in a one-on-one situation. Once again, considering his paygrade, Ilya Bryzgalov not only under-performed in this instance, he didn't even resemble an NHL goaltender. 

If you notice, I've used Bryzgalov's average annual value as the basis to most of my arguments. Let me clarify that I do not blame Ilya for his contract; the man made his money, good for him. 

I blame our managerial figureheads and Ritch Winter for the long, bloated, knee-jerk signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. General Managers and Players' agents have long been the sole catalysts to finding and exploiting financial loopholes in the bargaining agreement(s), which no doubt heavily contributed to the latest work stoppage. 

If Ritch Winter wants to stick up for his client, so be it. That's understandable. But as a salesman, no one should be buying into his arbitrary proclamation. 

Our defense was incredibly disappointing, Mr. Winter. Then again, so was Ilya Bryzgalov.... on an all-encompassing spectrum. 

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