When he was tending the crease for the Phoenix Coyotes, Ilya Bryzgalov was considered one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League, but that reputation was quickly demolished once the Philadelphia Flyers awarded the Russian net minder a big money deal in the summer of 2011.
Philadelphia is known as a goalie death sentence, but there was more to Bryzgalov’s terrible tenure with the Flyers than the fact he was another Flyer net minder bound to fail. At one point, Bryzgalov was accused of falling asleep at a team meeting. And oh boy, when the HBO cameras followed the Flyers around for the shooting of “24/7” Bryzgalov was more interested in talking about the vastness of the universe than anything hockey. Hey, I don’t blame him: the universe is pretty fascinating. However, when you’re getting paid millions of dollars to win games, and then you act like a space cadet and lose games, it doesn’t look good.
Bryzgalov earned the nickname “The Universe.” Pretty wacky.
On the same day the Flyers signed him back in 2011 they traded away captain Mike Richards and forty-goal-scorer Jeff Carter to make cap space and rebrand a team that was one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Bryzgalov never lived up to the hype in Philly. Meanwhile, Richards and Carter (who months later ended up on the L. A. Kings together) won the Stanley Cup with Los Angeles in 2012.
After the 2013 NHL lockout every club was granted permission to buyout two existing contracts without cap penalty. The Flyers bought out Bryzaglov and his reputation was ruined. The Russian net minder couldn’t even secure an NHL contract to begin the 2013-14 NHL season. He was signed by the Edmonton Oilers in early November and eventually traded to the playoff bubble Minnesota Wild on March 5.
Incredibly, since joining the Wild – a team that unlike the Flyers, seems to always get the best out of goaltenders – Bryzgalov has recorded a 6-0-3 record, including 3 shutouts.
The toughest question NHL general managers must be asking themselves now is: can we trust he’ll deliver if we sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a contract this offseason?
When this season is done, Ilya Bryzgalov will become an unrestricted free agent. Based on his brief time with the Wild, he’s a tempting proposition in goal. But the Philly era that must be scaring teams away, even still. A strong Stanley Cup Playoffs would do more to restore Bryzgalov’s reputation, but for now, he’s off to a good start.