Have we seen (and heard) the last from NHL free agent Ilya Bryzgalov?
By Allan Muir
There are two numbers that reveal much about the future of Ilya Bryzgalov.
The first is 23, as in the millions of dollars the Philadelphia Flyers are paying him not to play for them.
The second is 0, as in the number of goaltending jobs currently available in the National Hockey League.
Add 'em up and the sum suggests that we may have seen (and heard) the last of one of hockey's great characters.
Anything could happen, but the word around the league to Bryzgalov is, well, don't call us, we'll call you.
It's not just that every team has taken down the Help Wanted sign after filling its needs for this season. Fact is, there's not a lot of interest in Bryzgalov's services, even at a vastly discounted rate, because teams don't have a lot of faith in his ability to make them better.
There are questions about his ability to stop the puck, obviously. While his numbers may have suffered from playing behind an injury-riddled defense in Philadelphia, he wasn't seen as doing enough to pull himself out of the ditch. He had trouble tracking the puck. He failed to control too many rebounds. And, on some nights, there wasn't enough compete in his game.
And those are just his on-ice problems.
It's not that he's a bad guy off the ice, but he has a tendency, intentional or not, for making himself the story. And that's not a quality that many teams are looking to import into their room.
"I couldn't make a case for him," said a pro scout with a Western Conference team when asked what Bryzgalov would have to do to earn another chance. "[Part of] it's the sideshow element. He'd be a distraction. Even if he didn't do it himself, [the media] would make something of it sooner or later. You know, I like hearing what he has to say, too. He's a colorful guy. And it's not so bad to be colorful if you're going to win 40 games, but I don't see that in him. If he ever was that guy, he's [not anymore]."
And that appears to be the way most teams are looking at his ledger. Too much ink, and too much of it red.
There's always a chance that he could hang around and try to stay in shape for when an injury hits or a team stumbles out of the gate and is looking for someone to stop the bleeding, but even then he'd probably be a distant second choice to Tim Thomas. The former Bruin would bring plenty of baggage himself, and his year-long sabbatical raises questions about his readiness, but at least he has the skins on the wall. Focus won't be an issue.
Maybe he'll get lucky and wrangle a training camp invite from a team that's willing to give him a look. But even that seems like a stretch at this point. Again, why create a distraction unless you're looking to light a fire under an incumbent ... and no team seems to fit that bill right now.
Even Bryzgalov's Russian options aren't that promising, especially after he was left off the Russian Olympic development camp invite list. He played fairly well for CSKA Moscow during the lockout, but they look to be set in net with former Washington Capital Rastislav Stana, and GM Sergei Fedorov has denied that the two sides are talking.
Bryzgalov is back in his homeland now, running a hockey school for elite goaltenders in the Traktor and Lokomotiv systems, so it won't be surprising if KHL rumors start to pop up in the next few days.
If anything comes up, he might want to take it. There's nothing for him here.
UPDATE: It appears Bryzgalov has an offer on the table in the KHL. According to Friday's edition of the Russian paper Sport Express, the expansion Admiral Vladivostok would be thrilled to have him. "I am pleased to have invited him to Admiral," says GM Alexander Mogilny. "However, we are not a rich club, so I do not know whether he will accept our terms and conditions."