Ilya Bryzgalov is about to resume his colorful NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers. But it's likely he doesn't remain with the Oilers regardless of how well or poorly he plays.
Las Vegas is teeming with past-their-prime music artists who set themselves up for a slew of paydays in what’s commonly known as a “residency”. Essentially, they plunk themselves down into the city knowing they won’t be there forever; in doing so, they make themselves somewhat more of an attraction than they would have under normal touring circumstances. Britney Spears has a residency scheduled to begin at the end of December; husband-and-wife country stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are in the midst of one right now; and superstars such as Shania Twain and Celine Dion have been doing it for years.
One familiar NHL face who recently spent some time in that city – former Flyers goalie and intergalactic free spirit Ilya Bryzgalov, who got back into game shape with the ECHL's Wranglers – is about to embark on his own residency. This one isn’t in the bright lights of Nevada; it’s in the bright light – yes, singular, as in scorching spotlight – of Edmonton. But although the location is different, the amount of time Bryzgalov will be spending in one place is going to be about as limited as any Vegas residency.
One way or another, Bryzgalov isn’t likely to challenge Bill Ranford’s Oilers franchise record for games-played by a goalie. Unless something unexpected happens, he’s on a short-term ticket that can only get shorter.
Bryzgalov signed a prorated, one-year contract with the Oilers last week and after a brief conditioning stint in the American League, he joined the NHL team Monday. But let’s look at the possible ways his stint with the Oilers can go:
1. He regains the elite form he had as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
2. He’s an absolute disaster in net, does nothing to improve the Oilers’ sorry state and becomes a one-man factory of distraction quotes off the ice.
3. He falls into neither one of the above extremes and is just another member of a franchise still in transition.
If No. 2 or No. 3 becomes reality, the choice is easy and Bryzgalov is run out of town on a rail or simply not re-signed in the off-season.
If No. 1 turns out to be the case, Bryzgalov instantly becomes more valuable as a trade chip than a long-term solution. Sure, management might be tempted to retain him on a longer-term basis the way the Islanders did with Evgeni Nabokov, but the way the last long-term contract Bryzgalov signed worked out, would you want to be the man who signed him to another one? Or would you rather trade him for assets and take your chances on the goalie free agent market this summer? I know what choice I’d find most attractive.
Enjoy Bryzgalov while you can, Oilers fans. Odds are this stop in his professional puck-stopping career is going to be a short one.