by PuckStopsHere on 05/14/14 at 12:14 AM ET
When Ilya Bryzgalov signed a nine year contract that would keep him in Philadelphia until 2020 it seemed the rest of his career was mapped out. Things changed. After two years the Flyers bought out his contract. That left Bryzgalov without a place to play. It wasn't until after the season had begun before the Edmonton Oilers signed him to a one year contract. This was done after Devan Dubnyk failed as the Oiler starter. The Oilers never saw Bryzgalov as a long term solution. He was merely a band aid until something more permanent could be found. When Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth were acquired he was again the odd man out.
He was traded to Minnesota for a fourth round draft pick. Minnesota needed something to shore up their goaltending in the short term. Niklas Backstrom had abdominal surgery and hasn't played since early March. Josh Harding is out with complications due to multiple sclerosis. That left Darcy Kuemper as the top healthy Minnesota goalie and that created an opening for Bryzgalov.
In the playoffs the Minnesota Wild surprised many by making it to the second round before falling to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Bryzgalov was the goalie who had the most starts along the way but he didn't post particularly strong numbers. He had a .885 saves percentage and a 2.63 GAA. These numbers were worse than those Kuemper posted.
Presumably Minnesota will have more healthy goalies next year and there will be no room for Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov will be an unrestricted free agent goalie in search of a team. He will be one of several in that situation this summer and a less desirable choice than goalies who saw more success this year. It will be a hard go for him to find an NHL team. Likely he will be forced to be a backup goalie if he finds a team. It is unclear if Bryzgalov is willing to be a backup and it is unclear if a team is willing to take that chance on him. I think he won't be able to find an NHL job this summer. It is quite possible that if he waits until a couple months into the next NHL season (as he did this year) a job for him will open up. It is hard to make that into a long term gig. I think his best shot might be a return to Russia. He would be a top KHL goalie. Possibly he would be the top KHL goalie. That doesn't leave much of a pathway to return to the NHL but it allows him to play regularly and draw a significant paycheque.
Ilya Bryzgalov is good enough to play in the NHL. If he was given a situation with some stability, I bet he would post better numbers than he did this year. It would be a hard sell for any team to see him as a starting goalie. He hasn't shown himself as a top NHL starter in a couple years and since he is into his 30's, it is reasonable to expect those days may never return. He is clearly better than several NHL backups but he hasn't shown the temperament to be a stable backup and be willing to sit on the bench for several games in a row. I think his NHL days are likely over despite the fact he is better than some goalies who will play in the NHL next year. It is a flaw in the system that the NHL will likely not select the most talented goalies available and chose weaker goalies in his place. In an ideal world the NHL would take the most talented players available but with larger salary expectations and questions about his temperament as a backup goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov may not find an NHL team.
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