Entertaining and eccentric, zany and honest, captivating and cultured. Just a few words to describe the newest Edmonton Oiler Ilya Bryzgalov. I know there are many more that could be used to give insight into the netminder who, for now, is calling Oklahoma City home. No need to look for an apartment, instead this would definitely be considered a hotel stay for Bryzgalov. I wouldn't say hours but certainly days and not weeks would imply how long it will be before the goaltender gets called up from the minors and plays for the Oilers.
It was a frantic Friday for the Oilers first dealing Ladislav Smid to Calgary and then making even bigger news with the signing of Bryzgalov. I sat in the lobby of the Oilers hotel (and you thought you wasted your Friday night) awaiting the 33 year old to show up. He never did and even if he had, the former Duck, Coyote and Flyer would have probably just 'Bryz'ed by me (Ilya getting his game up to speed I'm getting my puns up to speed for him). Instead no sighting of the freshly-signed goalie. He was about a half hour away in New Jersey enjoying the night with his family before coaching his son's hockey team on Saturday and then embarking on the next chapter of his hockey life.
I can't believe Ilya Brygalov could have ever imagined that his career would make a stop in OKC. After signing a 9-year, 51-million dollar contract it appeared that the Russian was set for life in goal and in his bank account. Bryzgalov had put together seasons of 42, 36 and 33 wins. Two of those coming with Phoenix and one with Philadelphia. His save percentage in the .920 region. It was those types of numbers that led him to be considered a clear-cut number one netminder. He also was just in his late 20's and moving into his early 30's which as we all know isn't old for a netminder. In fact so many men in net are just in the process of hitting their prime.
He won 19 games (19-17-3) last season with the Flyers. His save percentage took a dip to .900 but his play was secondary to his interplay with the media. Philadelphia is no easy town to work in. Just ask Santa Claus (can you believe Philadelphians booed him). We always hope that athletes will be insightful, thoughtful and engaging when they talk to the media. We are just a funnel for those comments to then be passed onto the public. Ilya did say some things that were a little off the wall but should have been considered harmless. Instead he stuggled, the team struggled and his comments suddenly took on a life of its own. The more he said, the worse it got. No matter how hard he tried there was no erasing it from the minds of the people. It resulted in a compliance buyout.
The money he received was enough to skate off into the sunset. Instead, he still wants to play and prove that he can be an elite netminder. Been there, done that and now wants to do it again. The Oilers think he can or at least feel it's worth a try that Ilya will return to results from his past and once again it will be 'Bryz'ness as usual.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.