Cross Checks: Ilya Bryzgalov

CHICAGO - The Minesota Wild had three goalies on the ice for their morning skate on Friday, none of whom were rookie Darcy Kuemper, who remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury suffered in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche.

Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start in Game 1 for the Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks, like he did in the first round against the Avalanche before getting swapped out for Kuemper as the Minnesota goalie rotation continues moving.

“It’s been crazy,” said Wild forward Dany Heatley. “But everybody who has gone in has played well.”

Bryzgalov picked up the Game 7 win in relief of Kuemper to improve his postseason stats to 1-2 with an .826 save percentage. In 41 career playoff games with the Ducks, Coyotes and Wild, Bryzgalov is 18-21 with a .905 save percentage.

He’ll be backed up by John Curry, the 30-year-old Minnesota native who has played in six career NHL games. According to Mike Yeo, Kuemper isn’t in Chicago and continues to get checked out by team doctors.

The wildcard in this series could be Josh Harding, who is practicing with the team but is considered by Yeo a longshot to get playing time in this series. Harding hasn’t played since December 31 while battling multiple sclerosis.

“[It’s] get him on the ice and get him back to being part of the group and helping out a little bit with practice,” Yeo said. “I have to figure out exactly what the rules are, to be honest with you. I don’t even know. For me, I’m not even considering it right now. If there’s an absolute emergency or there’s a desperate situation we find ourselves in we’ll be prepared for that.”

As for Heatley, he practiced with the first power play unit, his role continuing to expand after being a healthy scratch early on this postseason. His ice time grew from 10:41 in his playoff debut in Game 3 against the Avalanche to 16:58 in the overtime finale. He had five points in the last three games of that series.

“For me, this is the most Dany Heatley that we’ve seen all year,” Yeo said. “He’s just handled things so well all year. It’s been real impressive to watch.”

Bryzgalov makes his one moment count

May, 1, 2014
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DENVER, Colo. -- You didn’t need the plus-minus stat or the "Three Stars" awards to tell which guy in the visiting locker room felt the best after the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in overtime in a back-and-forth, back-and-forth Game 7 at the Pepsi Center.

Jared Spurgeon, a defenseman, dropped jaws when he tied the game in the waning minutes of the third period on a nifty goal that skipped over Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov's shoulder. But it wasn’t him.

Nino Niederreiter, who scored twice Wednesday, was almost as stunned as the Mile High crowd when he scored the game-winning goal 5:02 into overtime on a 2-on-1 chance. But it wasn’t him, either, on this night.

The biggest smile in room belonged to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. His stat line on Wednesday: one save on one attempt.

After the 33-year-old was benched during Game 2 after inconsistent play, Bryzgalov returned to the ice midway through the third period in relief of injured starter Darcy Kuemper and helped the Wild grab their first playoff series win since 2003.

In 13 minutes, 15 seconds in net, Bryzgalov faced just one chance from the Avalanche, who struggled to create shots all series -- but to their credit, it was a good one. The much-beleaguered goalie, however, made a sliding save, stopping the shot with his left shoulder in the opening minutes of overtime to extend the game.

Bryzgalov became the only goalie to record one save and earn a Game 7 victory.

“It doesn’t sound like much but that [save] was huge for us,” said Niederreiter, who finished off the game minutes later with a patient shot that beat Varlamov. “That was our season there.”

Bryzgalov has had a rough going the past couple of seasons. Following playoff success with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes in the first decade of his career, the netminder’s reputation went downhill fast after he didn’t live up to his bloated contract with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2011-2013.

He was bought out during the 2013 offseason, but returned to the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers this season, before the Wild took a chance on him at the trade deadline.

Wednesday, for 13-some-odd minutes, Bryzgalov was perfect.

“[Tonight] felt good,” Bryzgalov said, “just wanted to help the team.”

After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo showed confidence in Bryzgalov for the first time this series -- perhaps knowing he has no choice as the severity of Kuemper’s injury is still unknown -- saying the Wild would be in good shape with whoever started in goal in the second round.

“If only we had any experience dealing with this," Yeo said with a smirk. "We're fortunate we have good depth at that position."

The Wild face the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, a rematch of a first-round series that the Blackhawks won in five games last season.

Game 1 is Friday in Chicago.
The St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild tallied the most mentions in an unscientific poll of NHL general managers who were asked which clubs impressed them the most with their trade deadline moves.

The Blues were the most cited among responses from 10 GMs on Thursday, their blockbuster acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott solidifying St. Louis as a Cup contender. Blues GM Doug Armstrong got lots of kudos from his peers in our little survey Thursday.

"[Armstrong] gave up a lot, but he got the goalie he needed," said a Western Conference GM. "He’s got conviction. He went for it. I admire him for that."

Added an Eastern Conference GM: "St. Louis for sure got better. Ott is a bit overrated, but [coach Ken Hitchcock] has had him before and will get the best out of him. Miller obviously is the key guy there, a huge upgrade in goal."

The Habs and Wild were tied for the second-most mentions after Montreal nabbed Thomas Vanek and Minnesota got busy over a 48-hour period, adding goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and scorer Matt Moulson.

[+] EnlargeThomas Vanek
Paul Bereswill/Getty ImagesGetting Thomas Vanek for a bargain price earned praise for Marc Bergevin.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin got high marks from his peers for getting Vanek at a discount rate from the New York Islanders, while Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher got praise for his industrious few days.

"Bergevin did a really good job on Vanek," said a Western Conference GM in a comment that was repeated by many.

The two Florida teams also got a few mentions and for the purpose of this survey would rank tied for third.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had only one team to deal with in meeting the trade demand of his captain, Martin St. Louis, but Yzerman still got a decent deal out of it from the New York Rangers.

"I thought Steve did an excellent job managing that situation. He got a nice return," said a Western Conference GM.

Said another Western Conference GM via email: "To me, Steve Yzerman did the best job. He was dealt a bad hand. And nobody could have played that hand any better. Plus he did it with class (as always)."

Panthers GM Dale Tallon also got some attention for stunningly getting Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver. "Dale Tallon had the best deadline of all," said one Eastern Conference GM.

The Penguins were mentioned by one Western Conference GM, with Pittsburgh adding forward Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. "Pitt was strong with quality, under-the-radar players," a GM said via email.

Buffalo Sabres rookie GM Tim Murray has been busy over the past week, beginning a rebuild and getting a vote from one Western Conference GM for his efforts.

"Tim Murray certainly added a lot of long-term assets," said the GM.

The Anaheim Ducks struck out on Canucks center Ryan Kesler but did add veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas. Ducks GM Bob Murray got a vote from a fellow Western Conference GM.

"[Murray] always sees the big picture. He is two steps ahead of what is in front of him," said the GM. "No one has come close to doing the job he has done the last five years. He inherited a very difficult situation and executed flawlessly."

Other post-deadline notes and thoughts:

• Interesting to find out from a source Wednesday night that Toronto was among the teams that inquired about Vanek. Imagine the Leafs’ reaction when rival Montreal got him, especially given the modest price the Canadiens paid.

• Needless to say, the Canadiens were never going to get Vanek if the Islanders’ asking price continued to include a first-round pick, which it did for quite some time. Once the first-round pick was eliminated from the equation, the Habs jumped in with both feet.

• Vanek is on record saying he’s going to the free-agent market on July 1, and at this point there's no reason to think that won't happen. Still, in the back of my mind I wonder whether this is a repeat of the Alexei Kovalev situation, with a presumed rental player ending up staying around because he falls in love with the electric market that is Montreal. Food for thought ...

• The Penguins made an effort on Kesler and also had a line in the water on Ales Hemsky, the Edmonton Oilers forward who went to Ottawa instead. I thought Hemsky would have been a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but Goc and Stempniak are solid additions. Goc is versatile and provides depth at center while Stempniak could surprise some people after being given a fresh start, like Jussi Jokinen has done since joining the Pens at last year’s trade deadline.

And this, from our friends at Bovada:



With the Roberto Luongo stunner out of the way (a deal that didn’t start until Monday afternoon but was completed Tuesday afternoon), the Vancouver Canucks continued to take calls on Ryan Kesler on the eve of the trade deadline.

A source once again reminded us Tuesday night that the Canucks don’t have to necessarily move him now, as they can wait until June.

Why wait though if the interest is good enough.

The Pittsburgh Penguins -- it’s no secret -- have interest and a source said they once again spoke with Vancouver on Tuesday. ... But to what degree it advanced the discussion, it wasn’t clear.

There’s a sizeable list of teams that have kept tabs on Kesler, including the Anaheim Ducks, who have a number of young assets that might interest the Canucks.

Of course, you wonder would the Canucks really trade Kesler within the same division? The answer we got from one source with knowledge of the situation is that the Canucks don’t care what team it is, they’ll take the best package if it fits their needs.

Kesler of course controls much of his fate via his no-trade clause and there’s a select group of teams he’d rather go to.

I believe both Pittsburgh and Anaheim are among those teams, as well as Detroit.

The Rangers expressed interest in Kesler, but a source confirmed to ESPN New York's Katie Strang that he would not waive his no-trade clause to go to New York.

We’ll see on Wednesday whether Kesler moves or the Canucks wait until the offseason.

Staying on the Penguins, if the Kesler thing never comes through, a cheaper option up front remains Ales Hemsky from the Oilers. The Penguins and Oilers have spoken about that possibility. Although again, one assumes Pittsburgh would want to see the Kesler situation through first.

Wild get their man


In the end, the Minnesota Wild threw a curveball by acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov.

But the truth is, he’s cheaper salarywise and capwise than Jaroslav Halak or Martin Brodeur, which is certainly a large part of why the Wild went this route.

It’s also because Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had Bryzgalov when he was breaking into pro hockey back in their Anaheim days. So he knows him.

But the reality is that match on the cap was a huge factor here, allowing Minnesota some room Wednesday to do something else if it sees another trade that makes sense.

The Wild also looked at Viktor Fasth, a source said. He ended up in Edmonton on Tuesday instead, a real nice pick-up for the Oilers in my mind.


So much for it being hard to move goaltenders at the trade deadline.

Counting Ryan Miller's move to St. Louis late last week, no fewer than six NHL netminders have changed jerseys in the past few days. And who knows where that number will go by Wednesday's trade deadline?

Miller led the pack both in terms of his résumé and the timing of his move when he was dealt Friday night from the Sabres to the Blues in a deal that also included netminder Jaroslav Halak moving to Buffalo.

Tuesday the goalie carousel picked up speed in earnest with Ilya Bryzgalov moving from Edmonton to Minnesota, where the loquacious netminder will back up rookie Darcy Kuemper for a Wild team that has virtually locked up one of the wild-card spots in the West.

The Oilers, having signed Ben Scrivens to a new two-year deal Tuesday, then acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim to shore up their goaltending depth.

And finally the whopper of the day saw Roberto Luongo making his long-awaited departure from Vancouver in a trade back to Florida that also saw the former future heir to the Panthers' goaltending job, Jacob Markstrom, go to Vancouver.

One would imagine that the market for guys like Martin Brodeur, Halak and either Justin Peters or Cam Ward in Carolina (the Canes inked Anton Khudobin to a two-year extension) might have dried up with all the goings-on Tuesday. But then again, it was supposed to be difficult to move goaltenders in general at the trade deadline, so anything is possible.


Well, that came out of left field, didn't it?

Of all the goaltending names that were in the air surrounding the Minnesota Wild the past couple of days, not once did we consider Ilya Bryzgalov as a possible fix to the Wild's goaltending depth issues.

Maybe that's because we've seen Bryzgalov play in the playoffs.

The Wild acquired the curious Russian netminder from the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday for a fourth-round pick.

The Wild have received excellent goaltending from rookie Darcy Kuemper, who is now 11-3-2 -- how long until he gets some love as a possible Calder Trophy candidate? -- but with Niklas Backstrom banged up and playing poorly when healthy and Josh Harding unavailable as he continues to deal with issues related to multiple sclerosis, GM Chuck Fletcher needed to provide depth between the pipes.

But with options such as Martin Brodeur, Jaroslav Halak, Tim Thomas and perhaps one of Carolina's three netminders available leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline it remains a bit of a shock the Wild turned to Bryzgalov.

The former Anaheim, Phoenix and Philadelphia netminder started the season late with Edmonton after failing to secure a contract in the offseason and was a pedestrian 5-8-5 with a .908 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average for an Oilers team that was among the NHL's worst.

Still, what is a bit befuddling when it comes to Bryzgalov acting as an insurance policy come playoff time -- the Wild have opened up a nine-point lead on the competition for a wild-card spot -- is that Bryzgalov has played poorly in the playoffs in recent seasons. In his past three playoff appearances with Philadelphia and Phoenix, Bryzgalov turned in save percentages of .887, .879 and .906.

His poor playoff performance in Philadelphia was a contributing factor to his being bought out of the bulk of his nine-year, $51 million contract there.

With Ryan Miller gone to St. Louis, there are no obvious answers when it comes to goaltending depth. There are flaws or question marks with all of the aforementioned netminders. Still, it does strike us that of all the options that remained vis-a-vis goaltending the one that instills the least confidence when it comes to providing playoff insurance would be Bryzgalov.

Oilers' goalie competition heating up

November, 19, 2013
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The Edmonton Oilers signing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov 10 days ago seems to have spurred on Devan Dubnyk's best stretch of the season.

Coincidence?

"We've talked about it," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish told ESPN.com Monday. "Could it have a psychological impact? Could it have a motivational impact? Is it just pure coincidence? I'm coming down on the side of pure coincidence."

Dubnyk is slated to get the start again Tuesday night at home versus Columbus, coming off a 4-2 win Saturday at Calgary, but Bryzgalov will be sitting on the bench wearing an Edmonton uniform for the first time after his AHL call-up.

The goalie battle is now officially on in Edmonton.

[+] EnlargeDevan Dubnyk
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDevan Dubnyk has risen to the challenge -- real or imagined -- presented by the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov.
"Devan certainly had enough on the line going into the year that motivation wasn't going to be a problem," MacTavish continued, when asked about Bryzgalov's impact on Dubnyk. "If the signing did have some impetus to improve his play, how?

"Greater motivation? Afraid to lose the net? There was all of that, in spades, already. He's in the last year of a contract. There's plenty to motivate him. I really feel it's coincidence."

Still, having that battle in net, pushing each other -- that's precisely the point. It's why the Oilers tried to trade for Cory Schneider last June, to have another potential starter push Dubnyk. Now they have one in Bryzgalov.

"Yes, they can inspire one another and create that healthy competitiveness," MacTavish said.

Bryzgalov did make at least one Oilers debut Monday, with the Edmonton media, and he didn't disappoint. And it was certainly not without much deliberation that the Oilers' brass went ahead and signed Bryzgalov.

"It was a lengthy process because he was somewhat intriguing as early as the draft [last June]," MacTavish said.

In fact, both MacTavish and head coach Dallas Eakins spoke with Bryzgalov by phone right after he was bought out by the Flyers last summer. And in the weeks before his signing, there were lots of conversations before a decision was made.

"We did homework in terms of the character," MacTavish said. "You hear both ends of the spectrum. You heard people say, 'He's a good guy, he's not a problem, he's going to be very easy to work with.' Then you also heard, 'He's a terrible guy.' I've never seen this varied an opinion on a guy. Normally people focus in on the same conclusion. But this was quite different."

My TSN colleague Ryan Rishaug also reported Monday that Eakins reached out to Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to get a further read on Bryzgalov, with Carlyle having coached him in Anaheim. In the end, the Oilers were comforted by what they heard from the man himself.

"He gave me the right answers to some of the harder questions we asked him," MacTavish said of Bryzgalov.

The day before Edmonton's afternoon game at Philadelphia, Eakins and Oilers executive Scott Howson visited with Bryzgalov and his family at his home in the Philly area. Hours later, the verbal agreement was announced by the Oilers.

And really, what is there to lose for Edmonton? It's only a one-year deal, so if things go off the rails, Bryzgalov is out the door June 30. Also, has anyone looked at the standings lately? The Oilers are just 5-15-2 on the season, dead last in the Pacific Division.

There are still issues with the Oilers' roster, no question. The blue line needs help and MacTavish will undoubtedly continue to scour the trade market looking for upgrades there. Frankly, you can make the argument that defense has been a bigger problem than goaltending.

But as far as Bryzgalov, it made sense.

"These are the 'yes' factors: He's going to be highly motivated, he's got a history of having a high-level game and he's on a short-term contract," MacTavish said. "Plus, it didn't cost us anything but the contract to get him, we didn't have to spend the assets to trade for a goalie. The downside was not much at this point."

If all goes well, it's a neat script.

"Everybody likes an underdog story, and he can quickly get into that position here," MacTavish said. "He's a colorful character. If he plays well, he's got a chance to really resurrect his image and his game. There's a lot on the line. It probably won't be seamless, but he's got a chance."

The Senators have issues

Blanked at home by Philadelphia, a stirring comeback win over Boston, followed by a clunker Sunday against Columbus.

Will the real Ottawa Senators please stand up?

The inconsistencies that have plagued the team since the beginning of the season continue.

"We can't start games, to begin with," Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Monday. "We don't move the puck nearly as well as I thought we did last year. We're not playing with the same energy. We played hard every night last year. We've kind of lost that identity right now."

The Senators have given up the opening goal in 14 of their 20 games heading into Tuesday night's game at Philadelphia. It's tough enough to win in this league without having to play from behind all the time.

Would a trade help cure things?

"I've talked to a few teams, and a few teams have called me, but there's nothing [imminent]," Murray said.

The GM says mostly what's being offered are contracts with heftier salaries than what's wanted in return. So the money doesn't work. But all things being equal, the Sens would be interested in a puck-moving defenseman.

In the meantime, the answers have to come from within.

"I think we have a good enough team to be competitive," Murray said. "I don’t know that we're world champions or anything like that but we've got a good team, we've got a core of young guys, we've got pretty good depth in the minors if we have to go there."

The Flames' plan

Nobody expected the Calgary Flames to vie for a playoff spot this season, but the internal expectation is at least to compete night in and night out as the rebuild continues.

So the recent free fall, a 3-11-1 stretch before Monday night's shootout win at Winnipeg, isn't acceptable to management. The question is, what's the plan moving forward this season?

First, the Flames have massive cap space with the 27th-ranked payroll, and unlike most of the few other teams with cap space, Calgary has the financial muscle to use it.

So the hope with the Flames is that at some point, cap-strung contenders are going to come calling with an offer to help alleviate their issues. That's when the Flames want to jump at their chance. Can they glean a first-round pick or a top prospect in exchange for helping to fix another team's cap issues via picking up an anchor contract?

That's the hope for the Flames between now and the March 5 trade deadline: Use their financial maneuvering room to gain future assets.
Ilya Bryzgalov's camp tryout with the Las Vegas Wranglers is over and now he continues to wait for an NHL opportunity.

"Bryz will train at home in [New Jersey] until the right NHL job comes around," his agent Ritch Winter told ESPN.com via email Wednesday night. "He has turned down one NHL offer recently and will wait until the right opportunity presents itself. There is no rush. He is in great shape and ready to go when the right opportunity arises."

Bryzgalov had agreed to join the Wranglers just for camp so he could train, and the team announced Wednesday they had released Bryzgalov from his tryout. The Wranglers open their ECHL regular season Saturday.
Bryzgalov-MillerGetty ImagesCould Ilya Bryzgalov or Ryan Miller be the solution for teams struggling in goal?

If Semyon Varlamov represents the gold standard for what a team might achieve with sparkling (even if unexpected) netminding, there are a handful of NHL teams that are salivating at the prospect of simply getting a decent start or two out of their starting netminders.

Not surprisingly, these teams are languishing in the early-season standings. That, combined with the increased competition for playoff spots given the NHL’s realignment, has amped up discussion about alternatives and, most specifically, how the dominoes might fall vis-à-vis a couple of high-profile netminders -- Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and erstwhile free agent netminder Ilya Bryzgalov.

While there are other potential options, Brian Elliott is the odd man out in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak playing well and Jake Allen waiting in the wings, and veteran Jose Theodore is still without a job. But both Miller and Bryzgalov represent the most interesting options for teams looking to shore up their goaltending with proven players, although both come with their own sets of pros and cons.

Bryzgalov, of course, was bought out of the remaining seven years of his nine-year, $51 million contract by the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason and did not find a new NHL home. Instead of returning to the Kontinental Hockey League as many believed he would, Bryzgalov is currently working out with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL and focusing on returning to the NHL. In theory, money shouldn’t be much of an issue for Bryzgalov, but opportunity and, as they say in the real estate business, location, location, location might dictate where he ends up.

Because Bryzgalov’s issues with the Flyers were as much about personality as anything, people forget that for long stretches of time Bryzgalov turned in quality starts for the Flyers. The problem was that these stretches were often bookended by bouts of uneven play and the notion that this poor play might have been prompted by the fact that he appeared at times to be whole big universe off his rocker.

Nonetheless, Bryzgalov is a former Vezina Trophy nominee, he costs nothing but money and term and only requires some NHL team to be able to persuade him to come to town.

Miller represents something entirely different in terms of a goaltending asset. First, as a former Vezina Trophy winner who's currently playing at a high level for one of the NHL’s worst teams, the Buffalo Sabres, Miller is arguably the more attractive asset in terms of pure goaltending. But, the veteran netminder and the MVP of the 2010 Olympic tournament in Vancouver also has a limited no-trade clause. And even though he is in the final year of his contract, he won’t come cheap in terms of the kinds of assets Buffalo GM Darcy Regier will require in return, assuming he can find a team that meets Miller’s requirements.

As we saw with the Roberto Luongo situation in Vancouver last season, just because a top-end netminder is available doesn’t necessarily mean a deal to move him can be consummated.

The good thing for suitors is the chances that Miller will want to re-up with the Sabres diminish with each loss the team collects. Therefore, Regier must move him before the March 5 trade deadline. Having watched the fiasco that was the Jarome Iginla trade situation a year ago, one would think Regier would have the smarts to want to make a preemptive move to try and maximize his return for Miller.

And given the goaltending issues confronting a number of teams, that time might be sooner than later.

Edmonton Oilers
We talked about the Oil last week in our Ramblings column, but the ongoing leakiness of alleged No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk reinforces that the team’s goaltending situation is at a critical mass. We get that the Oilers are still an unformed entity, especially when it comes to team defense. But no amount of rationalizing can erase the fact that Dubnyk has been awful. Early on he told reporters that he was confident that he was going to turn things around and that he wasn’t going to allow five goals a game. He was right. On Saturday, he gave up six in an overtime loss to Toronto. His 5.43 goals-against average is 54th overall in the league, and he has an .829 save percentage to go with it. The Oilers have one win, and Jason LaBarbera earned it while still giving up four goals on 25 shots. On Monday night, LaBarbera got the start in place of Dubnyk but gave up four goals on 20 shots against the Capitals. With Calgary out of the blocks in terrific fashion, the Oilers are easily the worst team in the Pacific Division. Playoffs? Ha. Unless they can find a way to keep the puck out of their own goal on a regular basis, this season could be lost by the time daylight savings rolls around. This means Craig MacTavish, the man who promised bold action when he took over as GM last April, has got to do something. Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in 2012, has been a healthy scratch early on. Surely he would be attractive to the goal-starved Sabres if Miller would accept a trade to Edmonton. Unless MacTavish wanted to hang onto his assets and turn to Bryzgalov, who might be a nice fit for an Oilers team whose 25 goals against is tied for most in the league.

Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009 and, in spite of assurances that veteran starter Cam Ward was fully recovered from the March 2 knee injury that sidelined him for the balance of last season, Ward has struggled through the early going this season. The team’s only two victories have come courtesy of offseason acquisition Anton Khudobin, who was injured in Sunday’s loss to Phoenix. Ward came on in relief and promptly gave up three goals on 12 shots to take the loss. If Khudobin is out for any length of time, GM Jim Rutherford will be looking to fill the backup spot behind Ward with someone who can shoulder more than just one start every couple of weeks. If not, the Canes risk falling out of sight in a season that is critical for them to bounce back after such a long playoff absence. One would imagine Bryzgalov would be the most attractive option since the Canes wouldn’t have to give up young assets.

Dallas Stars
The Stars have a new GM in Jim Nill, a new head coach in Lindy Ruff and early on look to be the same old up-and-down Stars team that has missed the playoffs five straight years. Worse, starting netminder Kari Lehtonen is once again dealing with a lower body injury that saw him moved to the injured reserve list on Monday. Backup Dan Ellis simply doesn’t provide the kind of insurance to weather a long absence by Lehtonen. And even if Lehtonen isn’t out long term, this time there is little to instill confidence that the netminder can stay healthy long enough to coax the Stars into the postseason. The Central Division is wide open after Chicago and St. Louis, but with Colorado off to its scorching start, it behooves the other playoff-hopeful squads -- Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg -- to stay close, and staying close means getting goaltending. Would the Stars be interested in Miller, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season? Hard to imagine with Lehtonen inked through 2017-18 and a no-trade clause through the end of next season. But it’s also hard to imagine the Stars staying in the hunt if their current goaltending situation remains status quo.

Minnesota Wild
Speaking of questions of durability, the Minnesota Wild lost starter Niklas Backstrom to a knee injury in the third game of the season. While his absence doesn’t appear to be a long-term thing -– he’s been practicing with the team for a few days now -- Backstrom appears to be an injury waiting to happen at this stage of his career. He came up lame minutes before the start of the Wild’s first-round playoff series against Chicago last spring and didn’t play in their five-game series loss. The Wild explored acquiring former Los Angeles backup Jonathan Bernier before he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he's been terrific. Josh Harding has proven capable of providing quality, consistent starts as Backstrom’s backup, but he, too, has had a myriad of injuries and is battling multiple sclerosis. There are lots of reasons to like the Wild as a playoff team this season, but right now goaltending depth isn’t one of them. Would GM Chuck Fletcher, who signed Backstrom to a three-year, $10.25 million deal in the offseason, make a bold move to acquire Miller with an eye toward making him the starter of the future? Fletcher has worked diligently to collect top-end assets since taking over the Wild, but this is a team that needs to be a playoff team after qualifying for the postseason dance just once in the past five seasons.

New York Rangers
Not sure either Miller or Bryzgalov is a fit for the struggling Rangers, but this is a team that allowed 25 goals through its first five games, tied for the most with Edmonton in the NHL. At some point you expect Henrik Lundqvist (1-3, .887 save percentage, 4.21 GAA) to come around. But what if it takes a month? Lundqvist is in the final year of his contract, and whether that is a factor in his uneven play or not is unknown. But it’s clear the Rangers don’t have a viable Plan B with Martin Biron put on waivers Monday after allowing nine goals on 39 shots in two games. Given the belief that Lundqvist will at some point sign an extension with the Rangers, it would seem Bryzgalov represents a more likely option in terms of upgrading the team’s goaltending depth, and the idea of Bryzgalov on Broadway would make for some interesting times.

Bryzgalov going to Vegas ECHL team camp

October, 3, 2013
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The Las Vegas Wranglers announced Thursday that former NHL All-Star, Vezina Trophy nominee, and Stanley Cup champion Ilya Bryzgalov has signed a professional try-out agreement which allows him to participate in the team’s training camp.

“Having a world-class player like Ilya in camp is a great opportunity for our organization and our players,” said Wranglers Head Coach and General Manager Mike Madill. “Operating independently of an NHL affiliation allows us the freedom to explore these types of opportunities, and we are thrilled to have Ilya here to work with us, and our goaltenders especially. It will be an amazing experience for them.”

“Mike Madill’s passion for the game, his team, and his excitement about training camp were a big part of the reason why I chose to participate in the Wranglers training camp,” said Bryzgalov. “Having missed camp this year, an experience like this is critical for me to be ready for NHL play, and I can’t wait to get on the ice. Everyone’s motivation here is largely driven by an unparalleled passion for the game, and this will offer me a very interesting perspective and be a great opportunity for me to reflect on why I started playing this great game in the first place. It’s going to be something very special, and I expect I will learn as much from this experience as any other I have had in my career.”

“To be clear, I intend to return to the NHL, and to be ready for game action when an NHL opportunity opens up. I intend to work hard while I am here in Las Vegas, and to return the support I have received from my family, the many fans who have reached out to me with words of encouragement, and the Wranglers organization with actions, not words. This is a unique opportunity for me to be an example to my own children, to the young fans who have supported me, to my new teammates, and eventually to the NHL teammates who will come to rely on me again,” said Bryzgalov.

Bryzgalov, 33, was the 44th overall pick of the 2000 NHL Draft, taken by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound goalie won the 2007 Stanley Cup with the Ducks, and was named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team in 2009-10 with the Phoenix Coyotes. Bryzgalov most recently spent two seasons (2011-13) with the Philadelphia Flyers, and also won a Bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics with Russia.

To allow the team to focus on training camp and season preparation, Bryzgalov prefers not to comment further until the end of Wranglers training camp. For further information, please contact Rachel Wright, Wranglers Media and PR Director, at rwright@lasvegaswranglers.com or (702) 768-7561.

The Wranglers open their eleventh season of hockey in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 19.

You Make the Call: Bryzgalov or Thomas?

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
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There are few teams that would turn down a talented goaltender. Even if you have a dominant starter, who doesn't want a competent spare in the back seat.

Still on the market are two free agents with a lot of question marks surrounding their talent: Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWould you want Ilya Bryzgalov or Tim Thomas on your team?
Bryzgalov has won a Stanley Cup, backing up Jean-Sebastien Giguere with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The Coyotes claimed Bryz off waivers when the Ducks couldn't trade him, and Phoenix promptly signed him after he recorded a shutout in his first game. Despite his success with the Coyotes under the leadership of goaltending coach Sean Burke, Bryzgalov became another punch line in the jokes about Philadelphia goaltenders.

Who can forget Bryzgalov stealing the show leading up to the Winter Classic. His philosophical musings on HBO's "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" about the universe, then announcing to the media in Philadelphia that he would not be starting in the big game.

"I have a great news and even better news. OK, great news I'm not playing tomorrow night and good news we have a chance to win the game tomorrow," Bryzgalov said as his coaches and teammates were trying to stay quiet about who would be the starter.

This chapter of Bryzgalov's career ended this summer when the Flyers bought out the rest of the $51 million, nine-year contract he signed in 2011 and GM Paul Holmgren called it "a costly mistake."

Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a Stanley Cup winner and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Not a bad résumé, eh?

In the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011, Thomas was the star of the show and the calm alternative to opponent Roberto Luongo's up-and-down play. (Example: "I guess I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires.")

But politics seemed to get in the way of hockey. Thomas skipped his team's visit to the White House to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup because he believed the federal government was out of control. He then took all of last season off to spend with his family -- an announcement he made on Facebook.

Can either of these netminders help an NHL team this season? Would playing in a smaller market again benefit Bryzgalov? Can Thomas play at an NHL level after sitting a season out?

You make the call: Would you gamble on Ilya Bryzgalov or Tim Thomas?

It is first and foremost a business. Always has been, always will be.

But know this: The business of the National Hockey League is, at its heart, about forging a real and emotional bond between a player and his community. Love the team, yes, but especially in places like Tampa and especially in the beginning, it is about loving the player and the player learning the game and ultimately embracing the team.

That’s why the passing of Vincent Lecavalier’s time with the Tampa Bay Lightning gives us pause to consider that -- business or not -- there is a lot of humanity that goes into a relationship like the one forged between Lecavalier and the Tampa community.

A lot.

After 1,037 regular-season and 63 postseason games, including a memorable night in June 2004 when Lecavalier raised the Stanley Cup over his head in front of a delirious and jam-packed arena in Tampa, it is over.

The Lightning announced Thursday that they will use a compliance buyout to get out from under the remaining seven years and $45 million owed on Lecavalier’s contract, making him a free agent July 5.

This isn’t a lament for Lecavalier, who will receive two-thirds of the money owed him spread out over the next 14 years. (An $8 million signing bonus will have to be paid in full, our Pierre LeBrun reported Thursday.) But in the excitement of where players like Lecavalier or Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov will land, or whether longtime Lecavalier pal Brad Richards will be bought out by the New York Rangers, we note the end of something more than just a guy playing hockey in a city.

On almost every level, Lecavalier embodied the trials and tribulations of the Lightning as the franchise clawed its way from curiosity to laughingstock to champion.

The Lightning selected Lecavalier first overall in 1998, and owner Art Williams ill-advisedly proclaimed Lecavalier would become the Michael Jordan of hockey. Against such unrealistic expectations, Lecavalier was named captain after his second season -- a designation that likely came two years too early. That designation was removed before the 2001-02 season, and clashes with then-coach John Tortorella led to much speculation that Lecavalier would be traded.

Former GM Rick Dudley had several deals in the works to move Lecavalier, but ownership would not sign off. We recall talking to Dudley successor Jay Feaster, who said he wouldn’t go down in history as the guy who traded a player of Lecavalier’s caliber.

Feaster’s faith was rewarded when the team began to jell in 2003, making the playoffs after missing out the previous six seasons and defeating the Washington Capitals before falling to the New Jersey Devils in the second round. The Lightning roared through the Eastern Conference the following season, defeating the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and -- in a classic seven-game tilt -- the Flyers before nipping the Calgary Flames in another hard-fought seven-game set.

It was during the finals against Calgary that Lecavalier famously fought with his counterpart, Flames captain Jarome Iginla. Lecavalier would later assist on the Cup-winning goal in Game 7.

Although the Lightning could not recall that magic in subsequent years, struggling through a disastrous ownership change after the 2004-05 lockout and many ups and downs on the ice, Lecavalier remained a larger-than-life figure in a community he came to call home.

• In 2007, Lecavalier pledged $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at All Children’s Hospital. The 28,000-square-foot facility opened in January 2010.

• In 2008, he was named winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his charitable and humanitarian work.

• In the same year, he earned an NHL Foundation Award for community enrichment.

• He was honored in 2009 with an award of excellence by the local Ronald McDonald House, and in 2011, he was honored by the local Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

• Last season, he was named a Lightning community hero as part of a program introduced by owner Jeff Vinik and his wife to honor local community leaders. Lecavalier will be honored at a Lightning game next season for his work in the Tampa area.

Tom Doyle works with Clear Channel Radio in Tampa and has a long connection with the team and its charitable works. He recalls meeting Lecavalier shortly after the player was drafted and watching him grow into a leader, both with the team and in the community.

“He’s the epitome of what we want in our athletes,” Doyle, the father of three daughters who are rabid Lightning fans, told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.

Doyle said Lecavalier’s involvement in the community vis-a-vis pro athletes is “unparalleled.”

“There’s going to be a big hole to fill, and it’s a sad day for all of us,” he said. “It sucks.”

Still, one can hardly fault Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for making this call.

Outside of a surprise run to the East finals in 2011, the Lightning have not won a playoff series since 2004 and have missed the playoffs five times since their Cup win. Lecavalier has endured a number of injuries, most notably shoulder and wrist issues, and his production has fluctuated as a result. Yet he remains a consistent 20-goal scorer, and when healthy, he is a nearly point-a-game producer.

But as Lecavalier walks away from his familiar No. 4 jersey in Tampa, it is important to note that his legacy will remain, not just as the man who first hoisted the Stanley Cup in this town, cementing hockey as a part of the local sporting fabric, but also as a man who made a lasting impression on the community in many ways, ways that will not be forgotten even as he dons a new and unfamiliar jersey next fall.

What was shaping up to be a not terribly deep nor exciting July 5 free-agent crop is getting some intriguing names added by the day.

Vincent Lecavalier brought some pizzazz to the unrestricted free-agent festivities Thursday. After the Tampa Bay Lightning announced they were buying out Lecavalier's contract, the star center joined goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere as players bought out and thrown into the UFA mix.

Lecavalier, 33, adds a tempting option in a UFA center class that otherwise was led by the likes of Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro and Stephen Weiss. At the right price, Lecavalier would be one heck of an addition as the No. 2 center on a good team.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Lecavalier’s buyout to be announced for people to link him to his native Montreal. Let’s be honest: It would be cool to see him in a Canadiens uniform after all these years of trade rumors linking him there.

Two questions need answering, though. Do the Habs have interest? And would Lecavalier be willing to play under that kind of spotlight?

One of the reasons Tampa Bay suited him so well was that it isn’t a hockey fishbowl.

“Too early [to tell],” one source told ESPN.com Thursday regarding Montreal’s potential interest.

Indeed, much can happen between now and July 5, with other players being made available via buyout or trade. The landscape is shifting quickly.

I’d be shocked if the Lecavalier camp, led by agent Kent Hughes, didn’t get interest from at least a dozen teams. At the right price, he’s a stud, and this isn’t a great year for free-agent centers. And you still can’t teach 6-foot-4.

Just my own guessing out of the gate, not based on any sourcing ...

• The Detroit Red Wings need a No. 2 center as talks with Valtteri Filppula are headed nowhere. While Weiss also could be an option, Lecavalier would make a lot of sense.

• The Chicago Blackhawks? Cap space is at a premium and re-signing pending UFA Bryan Bickell is the priority. But, man, would Lecavalier ever fit well there, especially because you know Michal Handzus isn’t the long-term answer at No. 2.

• What about Lecavalier’s former coach at Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, who is in his first offseason as coach of the Vancouver Canucks?

• The Toronto Maple Leafs have been looking for a legitimate center with size for about a million years.

We will see a lot of teams linked to Lecavalier because, frankly, a lot of teams could use him.

The Lightning did not come to this decision lightly. I believe this was a very difficult move for general manager Steve Yzerman to make.

But at the end of the day, the ability exists under the compliance buyout provision in the new CBA (two per team for the next two offseasons) to extricate oneself from a cap-killing contract. And at $7.72 million a pop for seven more seasons, Lecavalier was a cap hit the Lightning just couldn’t live with.

More of a concern for any team with these types of long-term, front-loaded deals that are remnants of the old CBA is the "recapture" rule, which is part of the new CBA. For example, had Lecavalier retired before the end of his deal, Tampa Bay would have faced salary-cap charges moving forward.

It’s why the New York Rangers are debating whether to buy out center Brad Richards. It’s why the Canucks should buy out goalie Roberto Luongo if they can’t find a trade partner.

A source told ESPN.com Thursday that the Canucks don't want to buy out Luongo. They could trade him if they're willing to eat part of his deal or take back a player who's also a cap anchor for another team. Vancouver also could waive Luongo at some point and hope that another team takes him.

Letang update


My colleague Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune created a bit of a stir in Toronto when reporting late Wednesday that if Kris Letang can’t agree to terms on an extension with the Penguins, Toronto would be near the top of his trade destinations. Rossi does a solid job covering the Pens, but Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, was adamant no such trade destination conversations had taken place and clearly was not happy with the story.

“Our focus has been on negotiating a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and we have not discussed the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Hughes told ESPN.com via email Thursday morning. “He remains under contract for one more year if we don't extend his contract. We are not the source of the story, nor were we contacted to verify its accuracy beforehand.”

The Penguins have made Letang a substantial offer, but obviously it was not enough; otherwise he would have signed it.

So the clock ticks. Would general manager Ray Shero really allow Letang to enter next season in the final year of his contract? Shero would get way more in a trade this summer than he does at the trade deadline next season.

It's worth noting that the Leafs are in the market for a top defenseman, so if Letang becomes available, it'd make sense for Toronto to be among the suitors.

Tick tock ...

Speaking of the Pens ...


Great job by Shero to get Chris Kunitz signed to a three-year extension worth $3.85 million per season. That's a good value. Kunitz has one more year on his deal at $3.75 million, and he would have been a UFA in July 2014.

Credit to Kunitz and agent Ben Hankinson, too. Maybe Kunitz gets more money elsewhere, but you like where you're playing and you've found chemistry with Sidney Crosby, so why throw that away? It's not always about the money.

Kunitz will be 34 in September, which means he'll be 37 entering the final year of this extension. Getting a three-year term was the real prize for Kunitz and Hankinson.

If Ilya Bryzgalov is right, the Philadelphia Flyers have about 60 minutes to save their season.

Before a lackluster 5-2 loss to the struggling New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, the Philadelphia netminder suggested to local reporters that if the Flyers lose twice in a row (presumably in regulation) to the Devils in a home-and-home battle this week, they would be “done."

The danger when you attach significance to a regular-season game or a stretch of games vis-à-vis whether your season is about to go down the tubes and then you don’t respond to the artificial challenge is that it’s hard to bounce back. We’ll see how the Flyers respond Friday night at home, but the indicators aren’t positive.

You can’t blame Bryzgalov, really, for putting such a fine point on this two-game set piece. The Flyers were coming off a week that had seen them drop games to Pittsburgh (against whom they blew a big lead), Boston and the New York Rangers. They were four points back of the seventh-place Devils, and the Devils had a game in hand. Win both, and the Flyers would be tied in points, firmly back in the playoff mix in the East. Lose both and, well, eight points back is a big hill to climb with 20 games remaining.

Welcome to the climb.

The ugly loss marked the third straight to the Devils this season and the fourth in the Flyers’ past five games as Philadelphia continues to stagger around the nether regions of the Eastern Conference. For a team that always has lofty ambitions, the lack of any sign of turning things around appears to be nearing critical mass. They have struggled at even strength with one of the worst 5-on-5 goals for/against ratios (they rank 26th). They are 26th in goals allowed per game. They have been beset by injury, but their healthy players have not produced enough timely scoring or strong enough defensive play to turn the tide.

Owner Ed Snider does not take losing lightly, and GM Paul Holmgren is as gutsy a GM as there is in the NHL. So, what next? A trade? A coaching change? All of those possibilities swirl about a team that has suffered ongoing injuries but whose healthy players have struggled.

Although Bryzgalov wasn’t terrific, this loss can’t be pinned on the netminder who has been a lightning rod for so much of the discontent surrounding the Flyers. The Devils are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, and the Flyers made them look positively potent, falling behind 3-1 by the end of the first period. New Jersey was also playing again without Martin Brodeur, who continues to nurse a sore back. Without the peerless Brodeur, the Devils had won just two of their previous seven games. Yet Johan Hedberg, who has struggled at times during Brodeur’s injury, was sharp, turning aside 23 of 25 shots.

Of course, if the Flyers do lose Friday, they won’t be technically eliminated from the playoff race. But for a team that has not won more than two games in a row all season, it’s not hard to see why the Flyers had attached so much importance to this two-game tussle with the Devils. Even if they now wish they hadn’t.

TORONTO -- The Philadelphia Flyers begin a season-long, six-game road trip Monday night, a moment in their season that will answer questions about a club that has sent mixed messages about its status in the Eastern Conference.

Are they indeed still the contenders some people believe they are? Or a team in transition that needs its youngsters to grow a bit more before taking the next step?

The next 10 days will tell the tale.

"We’ve got a six-game road trip and we haven’t had a lot of success [on the road], so this is a big road trip for us," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com Monday morning at Air Canada Centre.

A 5-6-1 start has given evidence to both cases, although a 3-0-1 homestand last week helped foster thoughts that things are finally coming together after some early-season hiccups.

"We had a tough start, I think for everybody," veteran Flyers forward Max Talbot said Monday morning after the pregame skate. "But the last four games have been good. We’re trying to build off that."

A 22nd-ranked offense underlines the most obvious issue at hand, although 13 goals during that four-game home stand suggested things are beginning to open up on that front.

"Yes, we started to generate more offensively than we had in the previous games, so that’s a good sign," said Holmgren. "The coaches changed a little bit how we play in our own end and it’s affected our players going on the attack, and they seem to be getting the hang of things."

A 21st-ranked power play is part of Philadelphia’s problem, and until that unit gets going -- the Flyers went 3-for-12 during the home stand -- the Flyers won’t have much leeway on the scoreboard.

"The power play isn’t producing like last year and obviously that takes away goals," said Talbot. "It’s taken a while to find a rhythm and a tempo overall. But we keep building and building, and it’s coming."

I asked a front-office source from another Eastern Conference team to size up the Flyers, and just like Philly’s record, it was a mixed-bag answer:

"They have a pretty good forecheck, good puck pressure," he said. "They can come at you at different times. Their goalie has been good. But it’s not a typical Flyers team. They’re a little bit different than they’ve usually been. They’re not as deep offensively. They rely a lot on [Claude] Giroux and [Danny] Briere. They’ve got those good, young kids like [Brayden] Schenn and [Sean] Couturier that are still making their way, and they’re going to be very good."

If and when the Flyers ever make a trade between now and April 3, my suspicion is that Holmgren will have offense in mind, whether that’s a forward or even an offensive defenseman.

Interestingly enough, the one area that has not been an issue is the one place where everyone was pointing before the season began. Ilya Bryzgalov has been just fine, thank you, his 2.27 goals-against average (11th in NHL) and .921 save percentage (12th) solid numbers indeed.

"He’s been our best player -- by far," said Holmgren. "He’s been great. He’s had a great focus. Every game, he’s been great."

Holmgren had a sense he’d be getting a more focused netminder after the player-exit meetings last spring when Bryzgalov manned up.

"He came in and said, 'I know I [screwed] up, I know I got to get better. Don’t worry, I will,'" Holmgren recalled.

Bryzgalov’s antics last season were a bit unnerving for some of his teammates. But it’s a quieter, more focused Bryz doing his thing so far, and that’s appreciated inside the dressing room.

"He’s been great," said Talbot. "He’s kept us in tight games. That’s what we’ve asked of him and he’s done his job really well. If we can get our offense going and our all-around game going, I think we can be very, very interesting."

The Flyers are a work in progress, which is like a lot of teams after a short camp and no preseason.

The key to a work in progress is to always be inching in the same direction.

"The team that you start with isn’t necessarily the team you’re going to finish with," said veteran Flyers winger Mike Knuble. "When you look at New Jersey and L.A. last year, you have to believe that anything can happen when you get in."

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