Ilya Bryzgalov hopes to make return to the NHL
Few NHL fans didn’t fall in love with the enigmatic – but charismatic – Ilya Bryzgalov during his time in North America.
Drafted 44th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2000, the Russian goaltender had one of the most iconic careers in the NHL; known as much for his off-ice presence as his seemingly polarizing on-ice play, Bryzgalov made an impact with each team he played for before flaming out during the 2014-15 season.
After taking a year off from hockey, though, it sounds like the Bryz is back – or, at least, he wants to be.
Bryzgalov told the NHLPA that he’s looking to make a return to the league this coming season, citing his year off from playing as ‘restful’ and ‘healing’. He feels ready to get back into the swing of things – and with a son who also plays goal, he’s ready to be a role model and learn some more tricks to bring home for his family:
“When I told my son I was looking to play in the NHL again, his eyes lit up,” said the 35-year-old, who is currently an unrestricted free agent. “He was so excited. Now he’s older and he understands the game more. It would be great if he could watch me play again, maybe to learn some things that can help him.”
The last team to see Bryzgalov in net was the Anaheim Ducks, who took Bryzgalov in on a deal during the 2014-15 season to help fill in for injuries. After just eight games of NHL play and two appearances for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, though, he and the team terminated his contract – and he headed back to Philadelphia, where he and his family live.
It wasn’t long before that, though, that the tiger-loving, universe-spouting netminder was an integral part of the playoff run that the Minnesota Wild made in 2014. To him and his agent, Rich Winter, the year off has put him in a position where the 35-year-old is ready to make an impact again.
“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.”
The most appealing thing that Bryzgalov seems to be offering is affordability. From the sounds of things, he and his agent are advertising his services as being offered up cheap; a deal based on an extremely low flat salary and performance-based bonuses would help a cap-strapped team if they’re willing to take a chance on him.
His numbers in the last year of play weren’t great, though. Bryzgalov put up a .847 save percentage in all situations during his eight-game stint with Anaheim, so it would likely take more than just a spiritually beneficial year off for a team to want him back.
Given the redemption of Peter Budaj for the AHL’s Ontario Reign last year, though, it’s possible that a minor league deal – if that’s what Bryzgalov is willing to take – may be his best bet. Budaj went from a disastrous year in the minors for the Winnipeg Jets to dominating with Ontario this last year; that may be the best fit for the veteran Bryzgalov, even if he’d prefer to be at the NHL level.
If something can be worked out, though, one thing is sure – any team that takes on the Russian goaltender for a new year will automatically get infinitely more interesting.