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Remembering Bryz: Ilya Bryzgalov’s Tenure in Philadelphia A Tragic One

Ilya Bryzgalov. A name that means so much: drama, distraction, entertainment and hockey. All of these things were part of Bryz’s time here, an era that lasted only two years. His personality was unique and interesting and so were the things that came out of his mouth. Some were endeared by these words while others mocked him. His play was inconsistent and his contract loomed like the darkest of clouds. Philadelphia will never be the same post-Bryzgalov.

Let’s start with the facts: Ilya Bryzgalov played 99 games with the Flyers in 2011-12 and 2012-13, compiling a 52-33-10 record, 2.60 goals against average, .905 save percentage and 7 shutouts (to compare, every Flyers’ goalie not named Bryzgalov combined for a .905 save percentage as well over the same span). All of this was done after having signed a 9-year, $51 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011, in a move that was supposed to bring a “real” goalie to Philadelphia, something the city hasn’t seen in quite some time. Bryz put up big numbers in Phoenix, including 3 years with a save percentage of .920 or better including a second-place finish in 2009-2010 Vezina voting behind Ryan Miller. That same year, he finished 5th in the Hart Trophy voting; he was considered the fifth best player in all of hockey at that time.

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Bryzgalov poses with GM Paul Holmgren after being signed (via CSNPhilly).

Unfortunately, Bryz’s play and contract made it necessary to use one of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s features, a compliance buyout, to erase his cap hit and make him a free agent once again. As mentioned before, Bryz’s play was not worth his $5.67 million cap hit, especially considering that the cap is dropping by about $6 million. Another CBA feature known as the cap recapture penalty—should a player retire that has a contract longer than eight years before said contract is over, the team will incur a cap hit equal to the total remaining salary divided by the number of years remaining; this cap hit will be incurred for the remainder of the deal—made it even more of a risk for the Flyers to keep Bryzgalov past the 2013-14 season, after which they could no longer use a compliance buyout. It’s just business, but that’s not what makes Bryzgalov’s story such a tragic one.

The treatment Bryz received from the media was appalling and unprofessional at times. There are countless examples of beat writers (I won’t name names) treating him like a child during post-game interviews, via social media, etc. He was even asked once to do a Borat impression—the Sasha Baron Cohen character a local “comedian” used to mock Bryzgalov—during a live radio interview. This type of casual bigotry is disrespectful to both Bryzgalov and Russians in general and is unacceptable, especially within mainstream sports talk radio. After I attacked him for his unprofessionalism, the interviewer defended his comments on Twitter by saying that Bryzgalov was making $51 million and therefore “could take it.” What? I wasn’t aware that making a lot of money means it’s okay for others to blatantly disrespect you.

Is it fair to fault a player for signing the largest possible contract? Wouldn’t you? If you’re going to play the blame game, blame management. The contract as well as the exposure from HBO’s series 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic put Bryz under a microscope. On the show, he talked about obscure subject matter including the universe, tigers, Siberian Huskies and which was more weird. Bryz became a household name for his personality rather than his goaltending, and writers/reporters always seemed to be constantly prying him for the next great quote. Sometimes they got it, sometimes they didn’t, but this relationship soon became toxic. It’s a shame too, because it is evident that Bryz is a very intelligent, introspective and funny person; the type of guy this world doesn’t have enough of.

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Bryz stretches out to stop a Kris Letang shot (via Getty Images)

Now that Ilya Bryzgalov’s time is through as a Flyer, we can choose to remember the good or the bad. Personally, I like to make every experience into a good one because I believe that each of us can learn a lot from both positive and negative things. Therefore, I’ll remember all the funny, quirky quotes and the awesome tweets from @bryzgoalie30 and take his average-at-best play as a learning experience for the organization.

This is a good time to look back at some the memorable (and hilarious) things that Bryz said over the past two years:

When asked about being a goalie: “I love it. Sometimes hate it. A few weeks ago they broke my chest protector during the practice, and guys continue start hitting me in the same spot. Why so painful? I don’t want to be goalie now.”

To former Flyers forward Harry Zolnierczyk: “Siberian Husky. She’s all white. Beautiful blue eyes. That’s basically blonde girl with blue eyes. Your dream, man. My husky, basically, she’s a hot girl, man.”

“This is tiger and less than 5 like probably 500 species left on earth, yeah. China law, if you kill tiger like this, death penalty. Yeah. If you kill tiger and they find you, you’re dead, that’s it.”

“OK, they fire the puck from the blue line. Chief usually yelling ‘block the shot’ at the defensemen. They doesn’t have the goalie gear, but they have to block the shot. So who is more crazy, me or the defensemen? Who is more weird?”

“You point to one guy and say we’re always losing because we have a bad goalie, but I think it’s the wrong philosophy. I know I was frustrated in my game today and I know I have to be better and I will continue to work on this, but….I will try to find peace in my soul to play in this city.”

“I have great news and even better news. The great news is I’m not playing tomorrow night, and good news is that we have a chance to win the game… So I make sure I don’t forget my thermos with some iced tea and enjoy the bench.”

On Scott Hartnell: “He look great, as usual – I love it. He’s like from the movie ‘Cast Away’, you remember? We need to buy him ball so he can have a best buddy Wilson.”

“I’m not afraid of anything – except bear. But bear in the forest.”

20130625-161806.jpg These quotes are just the tip of the iceberg, and not all of them went over well but, hey, this is Philly.

You may have noticed that I left arguably Bryz’s most (in)famous quote out. That’s because I don’t feel I could say farewell to Ilya Bryzgalov without letting Bryz, himself, have the last word. Before I do that, let me just say that regardless of everything that has happened, whether you hate Bryz or love him, remember that he is a human being like the rest of us and deserves to be treated with respect. So Bryz, if you’re reading this, good luck with all your future endeavors. I wish you and your family nothing less than the best and I hope the future brings you success and good fortune.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Ilya Bryzgalov:

I’m very into the universe, you know like how was created, you know, like, what is it, you know? Solar system is so humongous big, right? But if you see like our solar system and our galaxy on the side, you know, like, we’re so small you can never see it. Our galaxy is like huge, but if you see the big picture our galaxy like a small tiny-like dot in the universe. And I think like, ‘And we have some problems here on the earth we worry about?’ Compared to like…nothing. Just be happy. Don’t worry be happy right now.

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Categories: Editorial, Flyers

Author:Nick Hlywiak

Junior at Drexel University studying business with a concentration in legal studies. Lifelong Philadelphia Sports fan and passionate about hockey and baseball in general. I get existential sometimes.

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