Ilya Bryzgalov has always been known as an easy-going sort, so perhaps it should come as no surprise he has nothing but nice things to say about the team that practically ditched him for an NHL-unproven commodity.
Bryzgalov essentially carried the Ducks to the Western Conference final two years ago and won three games in their first round series last spring en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, but there was no doubt he would never be the No. 1 goalie in Anaheim. Then he was cast aside and put on waivers to make room for Jonas Hiller, a prospect the Ducks signed last summer.
But if he’s harboring any bitterness about the way his situation was handled, he is hiding it very, very well.
“I just want to say thank you for everything (the Ducks) have done for me,” Bryzgalov said Tuesday afternoon on an NHL conference call. “There are great people in this organization. I have no (reason) to blame this team. They were great teammates, a great staff and great management. I have no complaints. I had a great time with that team. We won the silver Cup and we all got rings. I was part of that and I’m happy.”
He’s also pretty happy about the way things have turned out since the Phoenix Coyotes claimed him on waivers. Not only has the 27-year-old won his first four games with the Coyotes, he allowed just five goals on 109 shots for a save percentage of .954 and a goals-against average of 1.23.
It’s likely part of the reason Bryzgalov isn’t bitter about leaving Anaheim is playing for the woeful Coyotes will give him a chance to prove he is a No. 1 goalie in the NHL and should be paid as one.
If he keeps playing this well for Phoenix, he would undoubtedly be in line for an enormous raise on his $1.4 million salary, since he stands to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. If Bryzgalov can get a team as weak as the Coyotes even within shouting distance of the playoffs, he’ll indeed be a rich man soon.
“You have to earn this job,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s not your right to be a No. 1 goalie. It’s so tough to get this job to be No. 1 and it’s so easy to lose. I’m so excited that I’ve got this opportunity and I want to keep working hard to help this team make the playoffs and win the most possible games.”
Even though Bryzgalov feels no animosity toward the Ducks, he had to acknowledge that going into Anaheim last week and beating them in a shootout was a sweet experience. The goaltender he faced in that game was Hiller, the player for whom Bryzgalov was sacrificed.
“I felt something different,” Bryzgalov said. “The crowd stood up and gave me cheers when they played on the Jumbotron some of my moments when I played for the Ducks and I was a little bit crying because I don’t expect that and when 17,000 people stand up and cheer, it was great.
“But we came to the city to win the game because right now I play for the Coyotes and we have to win this game, no matter what. No friends on the ice. We need the points, too. No sharing.”