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Ilya Bryzgalov 'would very much like' to be back with Wild, agent says

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Ilya Bryzgalov (right) liked his teammates and wants to return to Wild. (USATSI)
Ilya Bryzgalov (right) liked his teammates and wants to return to Wild. (USATSI)

Ilya Bryzgalov really enjoyed his time in Minnesota at the end of last season. His arrival to the team was mutually beneficial, as he went 7-1-3 in 12 appearances during the playoff race as the Wild dealt with a litany of goaltending problems last season.

In fact, Bryzgalov enjoyed himself so much with the Wild that it sounds like he desperately wants to return to the team next season. His agent, Ritch Winter, was emphatic about that point in a conversation with Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“Ilya would very much like to return to the Wild and further the success the team had down the stretch last year,” agent Ritch Winter said. “It was one of the most satisfying experiences he has had in his career.

“Ilya loved his teammates in Minnesota, loved the city and loved and appreciated the support he received from the coaching staff and Wild fans. He would love to be a part of helping this team to enjoy the success they had together last year.

“He has instructed me to do all I can to facilitate a return to the Twin Cities even if it requires him to compromise somewhat to accommodate the budget issues facing the team if that becomes a possibility.”

That's a pretty glowing review of his time with the club.

There's one big problem, though. The Wild already have three NHL-caliber goaltenders, two of which are under contract – Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom – and Darcy Kuemper is still awaiting a new deal as a restricted free agent.

That doesn't mean the Wild goaltending situation is on stable ground, though.

Harding missed half of last season due to health concerns tied to his multiple sclerosis. He led the league in goals-against average and save percentage and says that he's ready to go for next season, but there will always be that hint of concern about his health situation.

Backstrom was oft-injured last season, but also appears to be ready for training camp this year. The 36-year-old still has two years on his deal, but has not looked particularly effective over the last two seasons with save percentages of .909 and .899 over the last two years, respectively.

Kuemper showed he was NHL-ready last season in 26 appearances. He also saw six games in the playoffs before getting injured. He remains without a contract and a resolution does not appear terribly close. He would be the ideal option if the team wants to carry three goalies on the NHL roster.

If Bryzgalov wants to return, it may have to be at the AHL level to start, but even then, the Wild would be taking reps away from prospects. That's not exactly an ideal situation either.

The situation in net for the Wild is certainly far from steady, but if all goes right, Harding is healthy enough to be the No. 1 again this year, Backstrom is a really expensive backup, and Kuemper is getting more AHL time until he's needed.

The Wild do have nearly $9 million in cap space, however, according to CapGeek.com. If they wanted to bring back Bryzgalov on the cheap, they have the flexibility to do it under the cap at least.

Bryzgalov has been a bit of a hockey nomad since he was bought out by the Flyers after the 2012-13 season. He started last year without a team before being signed later in the season by the Edmonton Oilers. He was then swapped in a trade with the Wild where he finished out the season.

Between his two stops last year, Bryzgalov made 32 appearances, went 12-9-8 and put up a .909 save percentage. He did post four shutouts, three in 12 appearances with the Wild, and had a 2.68 goals-against average. The veteran netminder struggled in the playoffs, however, making nine appearances and registering a paltry .885 save percentage while going 3-6.

It could be another extra-long offseason for Bryzgalov, who is now 34 years old and running out of options for his services.

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