Say what you will about Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov: He’s goofy, he’s dopey, he’s quirky, he’s a lovable eccentric, but he does speaks his mind, which was no small part of the entertainment value of his first season in the City of Brotherly Love.
Bryzgalov ventured down that controversial spoken path with a Russian interviewer the other day, after joining CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League for the duration of the NHL lockout. As reported by Sports Business Daily, Bryzgalov noted that some Russian players might decide to stay home if the dispute drags on, and especially if salaries get rolled back in a meaningful way.
It’s a riff on something Alex Ovechkin said when he first arrived to play in the KHL and it would make you think it’s part of an orchestrated disinformation campaign, except for the fact that it’s coming from the free-wheeling Bryzgalov, who isn’t the scheming type and never worries too much about who he might offend with his oddball pronouncements.
So it is presumably his own genuine point of view when Bryzgalov says, “I think some of the players may not return to the NHL because you have everything here - and major companies are going to pay the top players here big money. And especially for Russian players who can play at home in front of their own fans and families and even bigger money than they have in the NHL.” Bryzgalov then concludes: “The KHL can’t feed all the players, but for some big players, especially those with a Russian passport, it might be a threat.”
First thought: You wonder what Flyers’ owner Ed Snider’s reaction might be, given how disappointing and erratic Bryzgalov’s first year in Philadelphia was. Are the Flyers secretly crossing their fingers and hoping that he does bolt? Yes, Ilya go for it! Stay home. Thanks for coming and enjoy life in Moscow. It would save the Flyers the final eight years of the nine-year, $51-million contract Bryzgalov signed with them two summers ago to, once and for all, be the answer to their annual goaltending woes.
For Bryzgalov to stay, he would have to breach his NHL contract, and currently, the NHL and the KHL have shown a willingness to play nice when it comes to signed players. It’s why Nail Yakupov had to wait until he received his official release from the International Ice Hockey Federation to play for Neftehkhimik and why Alexander Radulov had a short NHL cameo with the Nashville Predators last spring.
Detroit is presumably happy to honour Pavel Datsyuk’s seven-year, $46.9-million and, after a trip to the Stanley Cup final last year, the New Jersey Devils have to be happier to pay Ilya Kovalchuk his 15-year, $100-million deal. How do the Washington Capitals feel about what’s left on Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124-million contract, after his effectiveness fell off the charts last year? Does the presence of a new coach, Adam Oates, mean Ovechkin goes back to chasing Evgeni Malkin for the scoring title? Or are his best days already behind him - and if so, and if Ovechkin makes actual, real noises about playing in Russia after the lockout ends, how hard would the Capitals ask the NHL to repatriate him?
Tough call, because at his best, Ovechkin can be a dynamic presence. In Bryzgalov’s case, the decision might be a lot easier. If they could, you’d have to believe the Flyers would say goodbye and good luck and let someone else handle his PR moments in the future.