One of the most unique personalities to grace the NHL over the last decade is hoping he can get back in the game. Ilya Bryzgalov, who did not play anywhere during the 2015-16 season, revealed to NHLPA.com that he is looking to make a comeback.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old netminder last suited up in eight games with the Anaheim Ducks during the 2014-15 season and appeared to be content to fade away into the background and spend more time with his family. However, he feels a renewed love of the game and is dead serious about wanting to compete for a contract this offseason.
"I feel the passion inside and the fire in my eyes. I want to face new challenges and I want the chance to play in the best league," he said.
"I watched a lot of hockey, but when it came to the playoffs, that's when it really hit me. I realized I really needed to feel that excitement again, the rush of playing, the challenge of trying to stop the most talented players in the world. I was really missing all of that. The more I watched, the more passion I had inside of me.
"I was able to rest, both spiritually and mentally, and I also had the opportunity to spend time helping my wife and spend time with our kids. So, it was nice to have that year to recharge the batteries. Right now, I feel amazing. I feel great. I kept myself in shape and worked out a lot."
The veteran netminder also mentioned that he has a desire for his son to be able to see him play in the league again, especially now that he's older and a goaltender himself.
Bryzgalov's agent, Ritch Winter, is also advocating on behalf of his client, who has had other clients with some experience in the comeback department.
"Having worked with (Hall of Fame netminder) Dominik Hasek on his return after a year off and knowing the training Ilya has in place for the summer, there is no doubt in my mind he will perform at the level he did leading the Wild to the playoffs two years ago," Winter told NHLPA.com.
We haven't seen the players' association web site used in quite this manner, but there's not a much better way for a player to announce their comeback bid. It sends a signal to all of the general managers out there that they may have another option if they're looking for goaltending help. Winter also confirmed that Bryzgalov would be more than willing to accept a modest salary for the chance to play again.
Wanting to make a comeback and actually being given the opportunity are two different things, of course.
While it certainly would be fun to see Bryzgalov back in the big leagues, especially with his various antics and postgame media scrums often providing some high quality entertainment, he is facing an uphill battle.
In his eight-game run with the Ducks in 2014-15, Bryzgalov had a 1-4-1 record, .847 save percentage and 4.19 goals-against average. Between the Ducks and their AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, Bryzgalov played in a total of 10 games, then took all of last year off. The year before that, he started 32 NHL contests.
It's been a winding path for the eccentric goalie since being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers following the 2012-13 season. The Flyers took advantage of the compliance buyout for the remaining seven years of his nine-year, $51 million contract he signed as a free agent back in 2011. Bryzgalov will be earning checks from Philly until 2027 as a result of that buyout.
The Russian netminder has had three other NHL jobs since then, including stops with the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild in 2013-14, and finally the Ducks in 2014-15. His numbers were never terribly impressive, but he actually helped the Wild get into and advance a round in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In 465 NHL games, Bryzgalov went 221-162-54, with a .912 save percentage, 2.58 goals-against average and 34 shutouts.
So will anyone take a chance on him? Bryzgalov's best bet is probably taking a tryout deal to compete in someone's camp to show that he can be a serviceable backup. He has valuable experience and is a one-time Vezina Trophy finalist, but it's hard to imagine there being a large market for a 36-year-old goalie who didn't play last year.
We'll have to see if anyone takes a shot on him. There's no doubt that the NHL is more interesting with Bryz in it.