By Allan Muir
It's official: Ilya Bryzgalov is coming in from -- and into -- the cold.
The Edmonton Oilers agreed to terms with the colorful free agent goaltender on Friday night. Terms weren't announced, but multiple sources say it is a one-year note worth a pro-rated $3 million. If that's the case, it's a low-risk deal that makes sense for a team whose situation between the pipes almost certainly can't get any worse.
Edmonton, currently in last place in the NHL's Western Conference, has allowed a league-high 66 goals this season with Devan Dubnyk, Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman between the pipes. Dubnyk will stay on board to challenge Bryzgalov for ice time.
Bryzgalov went 19-17-3 with a 2.79 GAA and .900 save percentage last season for the Flyers, but the team decided he was an ill-fitting part and bought out of the final seven years of his nine-year, $51 million contract over the summer.
As luck would have it, Edmonton's next stop is Saturday in Philadelphia for a battle of the league's bottom feeders. It'd be fun to see Bryzgalov suit up for that one, but it seems unlikely that they'd throw him directly into the fray. There's no word yet if he'll even be available to play, but there have been unconfirmed reports that he'll be sent to Oklahoma City (AHL) to get in a couple of games worth of conditioning action first before he makes his Oilers debut.
What kind of fit will he be once he gets to Edmonton? I'm not sure his outsized personality will be the issue it was with the Flyers, but there is a looming problem: his style. Bryzgalov is a passive netminder and that would seem to make him ill-suited to play behind this fairly soft blueline. Still, a change in coaching--Frederic Chabot works with the goalies in Edmonton--might spark a revival in his play. Just being away from Philly could do the trick as well.
Edmonton also confirmed the trade of defenseman Ladislav Smid and netminding prospect Olivier Roy to Calgary for forward Roman Horak and prospect Laurent Brossoit. The move was made specifically to free up money to sign Bryzgalov, but it costs the team a heart-and-soul blueliner who'll be missed, his recent struggles notwithstanding.
Along with the cap space, the Oilers add some depth at center, a position that desperately needed addressing, and an interesting prospect in Brossoit who played his junior hockey in Edmonton with the Oil Kings
. They obviously had plenty of opportunity to watch him up close, which is likely what made them pursue his rights over someone more highly touted like Joni Ortio