EDMONTON – Ilya Bryzgalov once compared Edmonton to the North Pole. Now he’s trying to help the Oilers find some direction.
The free-agent goaltender agreed to terms on a one-year, US$2-million deal with the Oilers on Friday, pending the completion of a trade with the Calgary Flames that cleared defenceman Ladislav Smid’s $3.5-million cap hit off the books.
The Philadelphia Flyers bought out of the final seven years of Bryzgalov’s $51-million, nine-year contract last off-season. The 33-year-old goaltender went to training camp with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers on a tryout but never signed a deal with that club.
In Bryzgalov, general manager Craig MacTavish told the Oilers’ official website that the team was getting a goalie with a “history of being a high-performer in parts of his career” and who’s “very motivated.”
“I believe in the power of the potential of people,” MacTavish said in an interview with AM-630 in Edmonton. “He’s said and indicated all the right things to me in the conversations that I’ve had. I think he has a chance to come in here and make a real impact on our team.”
Bryzgalov went 19-17-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .900 save percentage last season for the Flyers. The Oilers are in Philadelphia to play the Flyers on Saturday, and while Bryzgalov still lives in the area it was not likely that he’d even be in uniform.
According to reports, Bryzgalov could first go on a conditioning assignment with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. His last NHL game was April 25.
To set up the signing, the Oilers began their shake-up by sending Smid and goaltending prospect Olivier Roy to Calgary in exchange for centre Roman Horak and goaltending prospect Laurent Brossoit.
“It was an opportunity to give us some cap (space) to do a few other things and add goaltending depth,” MacTavish said, as quoted by the team. “I thank (Smid) for his work ethic and sacrifice on behalf of the hockey club and we wish him well.”
At 4-11-2, the Oilers are in last place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, so the deal does not come as a surprise.
Going into Friday’s games, Edmonton was ranked last in the league with 3.82 goals-against. Goaltenders Devan Dubnyk, Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman were part of that, but there was also a belief the Oilers wanted to shore up their defence.
Instead, they traded from their blue-line by dealing Smid to the Flames. The 27-year-old had one goal and one assist in 17 games and averaged more than two minutes a night on the penalty kill.
The Oilers were not up against the cap ceiling, though it’s uncertain what other moves MacTavish has in store. He and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe have seen scouted the New York Rangers and Flyers recently, but MacTavish expressed satisfaction in the team’s recent play.
“As bad as our record is, I see plenty of progress and maybe more important plenty of potential in this hockey club,” MacTavish said on AM-630. “Certainly no moves imminent and hopefully none for quite some time.”
Signing Bryzgalov marks a major move for the Oilers, who have a team save percentage of .879 this season. In his NHL career Bryzgalov has a .913 save percentage.
His history with the city of Edmonton dates to 2006 when he defended then-Anaheim Ducks teammate Chris Pronger for requesting to be traded from the Oilers. Bryzgalov likened it to the “North Pole.”
“He may be tried to leave here because here in November months is a minus-32,” Bryzgalov said in an interview with The Score. “Could you imagine? It’s eight months in a year of snow.”
When playing for the Phoenix Coyotes amid rumours of the team moving to Winnipeg, Bryzgalov said he wouldn’t like to live there because of a lack of parks and fellow Russians.
Smid, who was sent from Anaheim to Edmonton as part of the Pronger trade, has 11 goals, 54 assists and 391 penalty minutes over 474 games with the Oilers.
“(It was a) difficult trade for me because of the fact that Laddy was such a warrior for the hockey club for so many years here,” MacTavish said on AM-630.
He is known as a shutdown defenceman and one of the league’s best shot blockers and should help the Flames, who are without captain Mark Giordano (broken ankle) for another five to seven weeks.
“We were looking to try to do something before Gio got hurt. We felt we needed to improve the mix of our six,” GM Jay Feaster said in Calgary. “Certainly Giordano’s injury makes this a more timely addition. We’re happy to be able to do it now.”
Roy was selected in the fifth round, 133rd overall, by Edmonton in 2009. He had a stellar junior career with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, but has yet to suit up for an NHL game.
He may get that chance in Calgary. The Flames have struggled for consistency in goal in their first season without Finnish workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff, who retired at the end of last season.
Roy, 22, split last season between Oklahoma City and the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. He had a 2-2 record with a 3.29 GAA and .897 save percentage with the Barons this season.
Horak, 22, has spent the past three seasons with the Flames, registering five goals, 13 assists and 16 penalty minutes in 82 games. He has 20 goals and 21 assists in 86 games with Abbotsford of the AHL.
Horak was originally selected by the New York Rangers in the fifth round, 127th overall in the 2009 draft.
Brossoit, 20, has spent the past four seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings, posting a record of 88-34-13 in 146 career WHL games.
In 2011-12, the native of Port Alberni, B.C., helped lead the Oil Kings to the best record in the WHL, posting a record of 42-13-5, including three shutouts.
He went 16-4-0 in the post-season and was named the playoff MVP as the Oil Kings won the WHL championship and earned a berth in the Memorial Cup Tournament.
Brossoit was originally selected by the Calgary Flames in the sixth round, 164th overall in the 2011 draft. He’s in his first professional season.