EDMONTON - Ilya Bryzgalov enjoyed spending five months with his family, away from the rigours of pro hockey, but he checked into Edmonton on Monday hoping to prove he belongs in the NHL.
The 33-year-old Russian netminder was signed to a one-year, $2-million contract by Edmonton earlier this month, after the Philadelphia Flyers bought of the final seven years of his nine-year $51-million contract in June.
After his first practice with the Oilers, the eight-year NHL veteran said he didn't want to comment about whether he's in shape.
"I've only had my skates on one week and we're in the process of working, but it's going to be day-by-day decision," he said. "It's not just up to me, depends on coach, too."
He said it was a "good practice" but admitted it will take him some time to readjust to the speed of the NHL after five months away and playing just two games for the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, where he gave up five goals on 25 shots his first game and one goal in 25 shots his second outing.
"The first game I felt a little bit clumsy, was not comfortable with lots of players skating back and forth in front," he said. "By second game I felt better. If you want to play you have to continue to prove you're good enough. You have to prove every day."
"I'm comfortable when he's comfortable," Eakins said of Bryzgalov. "A lot will have to do if Dubs can keep rolling like he is. Dubs is going lights out, Dubs gets the net."
Eakins said he will speak to Bryzgalov every day to gauge where he's at in terms of conditioning and when he thinks he's ready to play.
"He's a veteran guy, he knows his body and he'll know when he's ready," said Eakins. "If he wants to play the next day then he will be a consideration."
When it came to signing Bryzgalov even though he had been out of hockey for five months, Eakins said the main concern he had was "do we think he can stop the puck?
"I wasn't concerned with anything other than can he stop the puck? He's shown in the past he can. He's been on championships (2007 Stanley Cup with Anaheim)… I think he's shown too that when he's had a difficult time he's been able to rebound so we will see."
Eakins said he's not concerned about Bryzgalov's reputation for saying odd and sometimes controversial things and the goaltender himself asked that he be judged on his time in Edmonton, not his past.
"You have a great opportunity to have me here and at the end of the season judge for yourself, not from the people who say something because they might be bringing some personal feelings," he told a media horde, adding he didn't want to comment on what happened in Philadelphia.
Eakins said he finds Bryzgalov to be a "very intelligent man, an interesting man. Whatever happened is in the past. He seems so far past it."
As for being bought out and being paid $23 million over the next 14 years, Bryzgalov said that was not difficult to accept.
"Not at all," he said. "It's out of my control if they decide to buy me out. I just have to accept it and move on. I had a great time. I don't have much opportunity to spend time with my family. Had such a great, quality time. Usually it's a two-month break (between seasons) now I pretty much had five months I spent with my kids."
The Oilers put goaltender Jason LaBarbera on waivers to make room for Bryzgalov.