Since agreeing to play professional hockey in his native Russia during the National Hockey League lockout, "Bryz" hasn't played often, or well. The Philadelphia faithful aren't surprised to read that "news".
Numbers can be deceiving
After serving as a backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the 2006-07 Ducks' Stanley Cup-winning team, Bryzgalov was claimed on waivers by the Coyotes the following November. That move allowed him to become a starting goalie in the League.
Bryzgalov posted his best regular season numbers in 2009-10 when he went 42-20-6, which included eight shutouts. He had a .920 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA. But, the Coyotes lost in seven Quarterfinals' games to the Detroit Red Wings, as "Bryz" posted a .906 save percentage and a 3.44 GAA.
The veteran goalie had another good regular season performance in 2010-11, but was part of a four-game Red Wings' Quarterfinals' sweep that spring. His .879 save percentage and 4.36 GAA led to a change in organizational direction when that playoff year quickly ended.
I looked at Bryzgalov's career numbers with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes after the Flyers were embarrassingly swept out of the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Boston Bruins. His digital resume made him look like a goalie who might play better playoff hockey for a stronger team.
However, I'm not a professional scout and wasn't aware of any locker room chemistry issues. NHL teams are the only entities that have the full capacity to handle those matters of due diligence.
Paul Holmgren's theory, when acquiring the rights to the Coyotes' pending free agent in June 2011, was that playing in front of a better defense would help Bryzgalov to take the next step in his career. As we all know, a better defense needs to be put in place and then maintained. Plus, the goalie himself is always the first line of defense.
Last year, right now and who knows when
We can't know how "Bryz" would have been received by the fans if he had remained completely quiet last season. He wasn't and that factor made fans focus more intently on his inconsistent on-ice performance.
There's no doubt that this player can carry a team at times, as his Flyers' franchise record scoreless streak (249:43) proved last March. But, at other moments (The Winter Classic) his loss of confidence makes him self-destruct in a very public way.
Is this 32-year-old the type of goaltender who can stop every puck that comes his way, or is he the guy who has often been a healthy scratch and has a 1-3-0 record, an .887 save percentage and a 3.27 GAA for his current Russian team? Clearly, "both" is the balanced one-word answer that no fan wants to read.
Whenever the NHL and the Players' Association decides to play hockey, instead of money games, Holmgren's pick will return to North America. Despite his claims of remaining in Russia after the lockout is over, Bryzgalov has a legal obligation to do so.
I have no idea how he will perform when he's seen on the Wells Fargo Center's ice again. I also don't know how many of the eight guaranteed years of his contract the Flyers will actually let him play out.
Postscript notes: Anyone who claims that Philadelphia fans (or hockey fans in general) are choosing to focus on the team's goaltending issues once again must not have seen Bryzgalov's act last season. To say the least, this specific player is extremely unique.
I wouldn't be surprised to see him hoist the Stanley Cup as a Flyer one eventual June day. I also wouldn't be shocked to see Philadelphia send him to another team, League or reality at any future point in time after a new collective bargaining agreement has been reached.
Sean O'Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He was a freelance sports writer for five years in the 1990s and is currently a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo Contributor Network! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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- Ilya Bryzgalov
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