In September, as the Florida Panthers considered both Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov as candidates to stabilize their uncertain goaltending situation, general manager Dale Tallon was asked about the logic of adding players who were, by reputation, so quirky, such odd ducks.
Tallon shot back: “The puck doesn’t know they’re quirky,” and launched into a long defence of goalies, their legendary eccentricities, and how, in the end, it doesn’t matter as long as they stop the puck.
The Panthers eventually rolled the dice on Thomas – and the early returns are inconclusive, largely because Thomas had been inactive so long he suffered the obligatory early season groin injury.
The fear of injury is probably why Bryzgalov spent the past fortnight in Las Vegas, training with the Wranglers of the ECHL. He wanted a chance to attend an actual professional training camp, in case a goalie-deficient NHL team came a calling.
All of which leads us to the Edmonton Oilers, another team searching for stability in net in the aftermath of a slow start.
What about Bryz?
The perception around the NHL is he’s just too kooky to gamble on – which really is a preposterous notion. Bryzgalov was no more or no less quirky during his first two NHL stops in Anaheim and Phoenix than he was in his most recent one, Philadelphia.
The difference is the first two are non-traditional hockey markets, where his personality was celebrated, not mocked. In Phoenix, when you asked about Bryzgalov, the answer was: Sure he was different, but as long as he stopped the puck, who cared?
Everybody, at every level of hockey, has come across a goaltender who was a little different. It’s why people sometimes write about so-called “normal” goaltenders. If a goalie doesn’t have some quirk or other to distinguish themselves, that’s news.
Make no mistake, anyone who can discuss philosophical concepts in a second language the way Bryzgalov can isn’t stupid. He has a bright mind and you could argue he talked his way out of Philadelphia as much as he played himself out of Philadelphia because he was willing to engage in any sort of conversation.
You wonder if, before he signed that nine-year, $51-million (U.S.) contract with the Flyers in 2011, someone in his inner circle warned him about how Philadelphia had become a graveyard for NHL goalies – and that anyone coming in on a $51-million ticket to erase two decades worth of netminding nightmares was going to face unprecedented pressure.
Right now, Bryzgalov isn’t saying much of anything, which is probably a good thing. Once he signs, if he signs, he’s going to need his play to do his talking for him. For any team evaluating Bryzgalov as an option, the only real question should relate to his ability. How bad was he last year, and did some of the backlash against him come from the fact the man he replaced in Philadelphia, Sergei Bobrovsky, went on to the win the Vézina Trophy with the Columbus Blue Jackets?
In an era of three-point games, the 19-17-3 record Bryzgalov produced wasn’t great – and his other numbers were ordinary by today’s standards, a 2.79 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. But Bryzgalov was actually pretty good in his first year with the Flyers – 33-16-7 – which came after an exceptional 2010-11 season in Phoenix, during which he was mentioned as an MVP candidate. Bryzgalov is 33, with a lot more good years than bad on his résumé. It is hard to imagine he isn’t going to get another chance somewhere in the NHL.
It seems like a relatively risk-free proposition if the dollars make sense – and you’d think they would. When Evgeni Nabokov came back to the NHL after an abortive stay in the KHL in 2011, he signed for the league minimum ($525,000). He was looking for an opportunity, not a pay day.
Bryzgalov left a good situation in Phoenix to chase top dollar in Philadelphia and it turned out to be a poor decision for his career, not his pocketbook. With the Flyers paying him the next seven years not to play for them, you’d think the most important thing right now for Bryzgalov would be the fit.
Is it Edmonton?
Why not? Oilers GM Craig MacTavish promised bold moves when he took the job. This would meet the test.
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