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Bryzgalov likely hurting his free agent payday

Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) of Russia throws back the puck after giving up the third goal during the first period in Game 2 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs hockey series against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Saturday, April 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The Phoenix Coyotes are on the verge of a very early exit from the NHL postseason, down 0-3 to the Detroit Red Wings and with off-ice turmoil generating most of the headlines.

On the ice, netminder Ilya Bryzgalov is taking some heat, with Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley blaming the team's deficit in large part on its MVP of the past two seasons:

"The transformation in Bryzgalov has been painful, and it appears the pressure of the postseason is too much for him to handle. You wonder if the drubbing he suffered at the hands of the Red Wings in Game 7 last year is permanently lodged between his ears.

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"In the past four home playoff games against Detroit, Bryzgalov is 0-4 with 20 goals allowed. Each performance represented a huge letdown and an opportunity lost."

Bryzgalov has emerged as one of the NHL's top regular season netminders the past two years, and was even a Vezina Trophy finalist last year, but with the Coyotes' future in Phoenix up in the air, he has been reluctant to re-sign with the team.

Coming off a deal that pays him $4.25-million a year, he was expected to be in the running for a considerable raise this summer, either with the Coyotes or a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning that needs stability in goal.

A pending unrestricted free agent, he would likely be far and away the best option for any team looking for a No. 1, although after two straight years of playoff disappointment against the Red Wings, it's also likely his price tag is taking a significant hit.

With elimination potentially on the way in tomorrow's Game 4, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett pointed to his goalie as one area that needs to improve.

"We need our goaltender to have an all-world game," he said.

If Bryzgalov falls short again, it'll be interesting to see how free agency plays out. The goalie market is crowded with backup options without many starters to choose from, with the only other free agents that have won more than 20 games this season (Tomas Vokoun and Dwayne Roloson) getting up there in years.

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Teams have been going cheaper in goal in recent years, too, which could be an issue.

Right now, Bryzgalov's top option is to stay with the Coyotes, but if the team relocates, rumour has it that could change.

Here's betting that, wherever he ends up, the money won't be nearly as big as it could have been had he led Phoenix to a win in Round 1.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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