Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Where's Bryz?

As rumours of the alumni game rosters for the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Stadium Series game begin to emerge, I have to say that hearing that Mario Lemieux may play in the game is exciting. I grew up idolizing Le Magnifique, and I still think he could have been one of the highest-scoring players of all-time had injuries and his health not slowed the big guy down. One name, however, that would be intriguing to see on the roster is that of the man above, Ilya Bryzgalov. While fans and teammates often rolled their eyes at the Russian netminder's antics, he does have some Flyers history on his side and he was somewhat-productive goaltender during his time in Philly.

We'll flash back to June 23, 2011 when the Philadelphia Flyers inexplicably signed the netminder to a nine-year, $51 million contract which all but forced the team to deal away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Granted, they brought back some valuable players on today's Flyers roster in Jakub Voracek, a 2011 first-round pick that became Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn, but the moves at the time were surprising considering that both Carter and Richards were seen as the cornerstones of the Flyers franchise.

Statistically, the Flyers saw Bryzgalov post a 52-33-10 record over his two seasons in orange-and-black. His 2.61 GAA and his .905 save percentage weren't anything to get excited about, but he played some solid hockey while part of the Flyers. In five games spanning March 4 to March 13, 2012, Bryzgalov posted four shutouts and allowed just two goals. He then set the Flyers' team record for the longest shutout streak two days later when he broke John Vanbiesbrouck's record in a game against the Islanders. His 249:43 of scoreless hockey still stands for the Flyers today.

Now you might have read the above paragraph and saw that Bryzgalov played two seasons in Philly, yet he had a nine-year contract in his pocket. Well, June 25, 2013 saw the Flyers decided to part ways with the often-strange goaltender when they used a compliance buyout to rid themselves of Bryzgalov's contract and his wacky behavior. In doing so, the Flyers are on the hook for the remainder of Bryzgalov's contract which, at the time, was $23 million over the next 14 years. Ouch.

With the Stadium Series game announced for Pittsburgh, there was a faint hope in me that we might get to see Ilya Bryzgalov return to an NHL rink for one more opportunity at glory. And with that, one more opportunity to stand in front of reporters and wax poetic about the world he lives in because, quite frankly, it looks far different from the one you and I call home. Listen to some of these quotes that Bryzgalov offered up to reporters and in front of cameras. Imagine how much fun this guy would be with reporters and cameras flocking to the Stadium Series alumni game!

Ok, in all seriousness, I expect that Bryzgalov is probably still enjoying the many millions of dollars that the Flyers are paying him through 2027, but he might actually be doing something useful with his time. Bryzgalov, who still lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two children, has a teaching degree from Russia where he would be allowed to teach and, if he desired, coach hockey. It seems, though, that Ilya Bryzgalov isn't ready to abandon his NHL dreams just yet as the 35 year-old expressed a desire to return to the NHL this past summer.
"I watched a lot of hockey, but when it came to the playoffs, that's when it really hit me," offered Bryzgalov. "I realized I really needed to feel that excitement again, the rush of playing, the challenge of trying to stop the most talented players in the world. I was really missing all of that. The more I watched, the more passion I had inside of me.

"I was able to rest, both spiritually and mentally, and I also had the opportunity to spend time helping my wife and spend time with our kids," he continued. "So, it was nice to have that year to recharge the batteries. Right now, I feel amazing. I feel great. I kept myself in shape and worked out a lot."
Wouldn't the alumni game be a perfect place to show the world he can still play? Yes, it's true that the alumni don't play as hard as NHL players do, but Ilya Bryzgalov isn't auditioning for a starter's role just yet. He'll have to ease back into things as he works up to trying to unseat a starter in the NHL.

All kidding aside, I'd like to see Ilya Bryzgalov back on the big stage for one more day just to hear a few more thoughts from him. If we get any more gems out of him like on the video above, it will be entirely worth having the Flyers in multiple alumni games moving forward!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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