|Watch Ilya Bryzgalov in action|
Yet, it took an unselfish move by his former team to give Bryzgalov a chance to prove his former coach right.
In an inspiring, anything-can-happen-to-a-backup-goalie story, Bryzgalov has found himself competing to be the Phoenix Coyotes starting goalie.
“I was surprised because I thought (Anaheim GM Brian Burke) was going to try to keep me until the end of the season,” Bryzgalov said. “I thought Burke would at least keep me until the trade deadline so he could trade me.”
Burke had promised Bryzgalov he was going to do everything he could to deal him to a team that needed a starting goalie, but Burke couldn’t strike a deal. Jonas Hiller was making a bid for a promotion from the Ducks’ farm club; the Portland Pirates of the AHL. That perfect storm forced Burke to make the Russian netminder available on waivers Nov. 16.
When the mandatory 24-hour waiver period was finished, Bryzgalov said Burke called him at 9:03 a.m. the next morning to tell him he had been claimed by Phoenix.
“He’s been great and has not asked for a trade,” Burke said. “When we signed Hiller during the playoffs, you didn’t hear a word out of Bryz. He’s been terrific. He’s a quality person who helped us win. He deserves to go somewhere else and play.”
Bryzgalov’s faith in his former GM never wavered.
“He promised me he’d find me a new home and he kept his promise,” said Bryzgalov, who went 3-1 with a 2.25 GAA in the playoffs last season and was 26-23-7 with a 2.48 GAA in two seasons as Anaheim’s No. 2. “He’s a great man, a great general manager. I respect what he did for me.”
The Coyotes were in Los Angeles for an afternoon game the same day Bryzgalov was claimed off waivers, and he was able to meet his new team at the Staples Center. Bryzgalov got the start in goal that afternoon and he stopped all 28 Kings shots recording his first shutout of the season.
Phoenix won its next three games and Bryzgalov has a 2.31 goals-against average in 20 games with the Coyotes.
“With a guy of this quality you’d like to think you can find a market for him, but there is more to it than that,” said Don Maloney, the Phoenix GM. “That, to me, is black and white and there are a lot of other dynamics. I give Brian credit. He told him if he couldn’t find a deal, he’d move him, and he couldn’t find a deal. The trouble is the way the market is right now. I think every team has two goalies on one-way contracts and there’re no major injuries in the net. There wasn’t an urgency for anybody.
“This is a good player who has shown he can play in the NHL and win games in the playoffs. I understand Brian’s predicament, and we were fortunate that the timing worked for us to be in a position to claim Ilya.”
This is a coup for the Coyotes, who didn’t have to surrender an asset in exchange for their potential No. 1 goalie. If Bryzgalov performs up to expectations, Phoenix will do everything it can to re-sign him to a long-term contract.
“The No. 1 priority since I got this job was solving our goaltending issues long-term, and this allows us to take a step back where we don’t have this constant pressure to solve a problem,” Maloney said. “Ilya is a guy we certainly would have been looking at in the off-season if he became an unrestricted (free agent).”
For Bryzgalov, it’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for throughout his career.
“I am so excited because it is something new in my life, it is something amazing that I have waited for,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. I won’t waste it. This is my chance. I have to use this chance.”