When it was announced, Ilya Bryzgalov’s NHL comeback attempt may have seemed a bit far-fetched, especially given the veteran netminder had sat out the entire 2015-16 season. But as it turns out, there’s still a lot of interest in what the 35-year-old netminder might be able to bring to the table.
Bryzgalov’s agent, Ritch Winter, told Russian news outlet TASS that he started speaking with teams as soon as Bryzgalov had made clear his wish to return to the NHL, and while teams were likely shocked to get the call, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some interest. In fact, there are currently a number of teams lining up to speak with Bryzgalov about his return.
"It is a return to the NHL, and (there are) currently six teams interested in him last week,” Winter said, via TASS.
Winter said that a decision could be made soon and Bryzgalov could have a place to play within the month. And although the veteran has missed a significant amount of playing time — he last stepped on the ice for an NHL game in February 2015 — Winter said his client has remained in good shape, though realizes it would have been “impossible to wait any longer” to make an attempt at returning to the NHL.
There’s reason for Bryzgalov to be an interesting fit in the NHL, namely that he might come cheap to a team looking for an experienced backup. When Bryzgalov first discussed his comeback with NHLPA.com, Winter said the eccentric goaltender was willing to “play for a modest salary and take most of his compensation in bonuses,” which means he could be in line to earn league minimum. Money shouldn’t be an issue, though, as Bryzgalov continues to earn $1.64 million annually following a buyout by the Philadelphia Flyers. Those payments will continue for the next 11 years.
Almost everything about a Bryzgalovr return is exciting and enticing. He has been one of the NHL’s most colorful characters, he’s consistently quotable and fans love him. Unfortunately, the parts about his return that aren’t as exciting or enticing have to do with his on-ice performance.
Since Bryzgalov finished top-six in Vezina Trophy voting in 2009-10 and 2010-11 as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, he has not been able to recapture his form. In his first season as a Flyer, he wasn’t awful — Bryzgalov posted a .909 save percentage, 2.48 goals-against average and 33-16-7 record — but his past three seasons in the league have been trying.
Across 76 starts split between the Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks, Bryzgalov has turned in a 32-30-12 record, .900 SP, 2.85 GAA and five shutouts. That’s below average, and his eight-game turn with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15 isn’t likely to inspire confidence, as he went 1-4-1 with a .847 SP and 4.19 GAA.
However, Bryzgalov said that he has a newfound desire and used the time away from the game to rest “spiritually and mentally.” He told NHLPA.com’s Chris Lomon that he sees this as his chance at a fresh — albeit late — start. Maybe he’ll have a resurgence after a season away from the game, but we won’t know until Bryzgalov actually makes his return. And by the sounds of it, that return is coming this season.