On some level, it was the right idea.
The Philadelphia Flyers had gone as far as Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals while spending the fifth-lowest percentage of their cap hit on goaltending. They followed up that Cinderella playoff run with a strong regular season showing in 2010-11, finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 106 points, before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the second round -- this time spending the seventh lowest percentage-wise on goaltending.
While pinching pennies between the pipes by employing a cast of journeymen, backups, retreads and rookies like Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery and Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia outclassed the opposition everywhere else on the ice with a vast array of talent, including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, supplemented by plenty of quality depth.
Philadelphia appeared to be one tantalizing piece away from being a top Cup contender. Clearly, the most direct way to improve the squad was to add an elite netminder -- and that's certainly what Flyers Nation was clamoring for. A good thought, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details.
Under intense pressure from owner Ed Snider, general manager Paul Holmgren acquired the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov on the eve of the 2011 NHL entry draft, signing the seemingly above-average but inconsistent 30-year-old netminder to a puzzlingly long nine-year, $51 million contract, tying up nearly $6 million of cap space through his age-39 season.
While most Flyers fans were focused on and distraught over the simultaneous trades of franchise cornerstones Richards and Carter, the fact is that Holmgren got equivalent value in those deals. Any ire directed toward Philadelphia's ownership and front office should have focused squarely on the Bryzgalov fiasco. The signing was a disaster on a couple of levels -- the indefensible contract, which the sabermetric community lambasted, and the misidentification of "elite" talent, which somehow slipped by just about everyone.
How did that happen?