Ground Control to Major Bryz
HBO’s NHL 24/7 has given us many things. Unique insights in to the way NHL clubs work. How players and coaches prepare. How franchises deal with the ups and downs of life at the sports highest level.
It has also catapulted some to a new kind of fame. From Dan Bylsma’s words of wisdom to Dan Giradi’s wonder kid. It also created a different kind of ‘legend’ – ‘Mr Universe’.
Ilya Bryzgalov’s ‘quirkiness’ was no great secret. People always knew he was a little ‘different’; his comments about Winnipeg’s lack of parks offended an entire city and gave a glimpse in to what sets him apart in a profession where all goalies are supposed to be a little bit different anyway.
But his infamous soliloquy about the universe on NHL 24/7 revealed just how out there Bryz can be. Numerous run ins with the Philadelphia media followed as the Flyers stumbled, culminating in the former Ducks and Coyotes puck stopper being bought out this summer.
Now a free agent, heading to training camp with the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers, the Russian’s next stop is one of the most talked about and polarising subjects in the NHL right now.
Here we look at some possible landing spots for everyone’s favourite astronomer:
Almost as soon as it was announced Tomas Vokoun would be out for 4 to 6 months, following surgery to remove a blood clot, Bryzgalov was linked with the Penguins.
26-year old Jeff Zatkoff currently holds the backup spot behind Marc Andre Fleury; and despite the Detroit natives lack of NHL experience there is no reason he could not continue in this role. Fleury is capable of playing 65+ games per season and it is likely the Pens will play ‘Flower’ as much as possible, giving Zatkoff fleeting opportunities to fill in until the early spring, when Vokoun should return
The major caveat with Fleury is his mercurial play – thus making the case for installing another experienced NHL stopper in the backup role; as they did with Vokoun. Realistically though, Fleury has rarely failed in the regular season and any move for Bryzgalov seems unlikely.
New York Islanders
The Islanders have a good crop of exciting young players and prospects playing for a Coach that seems to be getting the best from them. With a move to a new home also on the horizon, after years in the toilet the franchise now has much going for it again. But one area remains a big question mark – goaltending.
Evgeni Nabokov proved to be a solid addition once the former Sharks stopper swallowed his pride and reported for action. But he is 38 and plays what some would consider an unusual style as he begins to show signs ‘slow down’ in his game.
Kevin Poulin has the potential to become a solid NHL netminder, but someone like Bryzgalov might prove to be an ideal short to mid term option for the Isles if his fellow countryman falters this season.
Las Vegas Wranglers
Las Vegas is warm, has plenty to do and is near Area 51; whilst the Wranglers love a good marketing opportunity.
Assuming a financial agreement can be reached, and it is possible given Bryz just collected a pretty big cheque from the Flyers (so money isn’t a huge issue per say), perhaps it is not so far fetched?
Bryzgalov’s stock has fallen considerably in the short time he was in Philadelphia. Much like Ray Emery took time away in the KHL, a year in the ECHL might allow Bryzgalov to get back on track.
Bryzgalov is still a very capable goaltender. Perhaps things were a little over inflated by his time in Phoenix, where it seems it can be as much about the system as the man between the pipes. But equally he doesn’t deserve the crap he got in Philadelphia.
The Flyers threw money at him as one of the few free agent goalies available at the time, and at times Bryzgalov was the only thing between the Flyers and some embarrassing scorelines, as Peter Laviolette’s side struggled.
A top level, Russian netminder would surely be an appealing proposition for a KHL franchise? If one could entice him home.
An unlikely one perhaps, given that neither Edmonton nor Calgary may seem much of a leap from Winnipeg by Bryzgalov, but both the Oilers and particularly the Flames have goaltending question marks of their own.
Whilst Bryzgalov’s personal preferences would likely nix any deal, it is perhaps not a stretch to see either franchise reaching out to the Russian if their netminding fails.
Assorted ‘One Netminder’ Teams Hit By Injury
Granted this is something of a broad brush; but there are a few NHL clubs whose ambitions could quickly be derailed by a single goaltending injury.
Carolina remain an obvious example, losing considerable ground last season when Cam Ward went down. If the former Conn Smythe winner should run in to injury troubles again, an experienced hand like Bryzgalov could become an attractive short term option.
The previously mentioned Penguins and Islanders could also be thrown in here as well, if Fleury or Nabokov should get hurt. And you could make a case for several other teams, depending on how confident they are in their goaltending prospects, including the Blue Jackets, Stars, Canadiens and dare I say it, Red Wings and Blackhawks.
Whilst minor injuries can be ridden out, a long term absence for a player like Carey Price or Jimmy Howard might change a few General Manager’s minds.