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80 Days Until The Season Begins

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Zach Laing
8 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
“It’s only game. Why you heff to be mad?”
“The solar system is so humongous big.”
“I’m not afraid of anything. I’m afraid of bears. But bear in the forest.”
“Great news, I’m not playing tomorrow night. Good news, we have a chance to win the game.”
We’ve never been short on great quotes from the legendary Ilya Bryzgalov, and in today’s edition of the season countdown, we’re looking at his brief, but memorable time in Edmonton.

An Edmonton Journal article from Nov. 9, 2013 details the Oilers trading Ladislav Smid to the Calgary Flames and the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov.

PLAYER COUNTDOWN PRESENTED BY BETWAY


By the time Bryzgalov landed in Edmonton, his journey in hockey had already been long. Drafted 44th overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2000 draft, the Russian already had pro experience overseas in his home country, and spent the 2000-01 season doing the same.
When he came to North America ahead of the 2001-02 season, he would spend his first four years here playing in the American Hockey League with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Anaheim’s AHL affiliate. It was tough for him to break into the big league on account of the fact that one of the best goalies in the world at the time, Jean-Sebastian Gigure, had the Duck’s starting role locked down.
But in 2005-06, the previous backup, Martin Gerber, would land with the Carolina Hurricanes opening a spot for Bryzgalov to slide in as a backup. But injuries hampered Gigure allowing Bryzgalov to draw in for 31 regular season games, and another 11 in the playoffs.
He was electric through the first two rounds going 6-1 with a .967 save percentage against the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche, but in the third round, he met his match: the Edmonton Oilers.
Bryzgalov would start and finish the first three games of the series allowing nine goals with a brutal .873 save percentage. Gigure would draw back in, but it was too little too late and the Oilers would win in five games.
He remained in Anaheim in 2006-07 helping the team win the cup as a backup, but into the offseason, the Ducks reportedly tried to trade him. It didn’t happen and in November 2007, then GM Brian Burke put him on waivers as a favour. The Arizona Coyotes would pick him up, and Bryzgalov would backstop them for four seasons posting the best numbers of his career.
Across 257 games, the most he played with any organization, he posted a 130-93-27 record, a .917 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA. His best year in the league came in 2009-10 with the ‘Yotes where he posted a 42-20-6 record, a .920 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA. He finished second in Vezina voting and fifth in Hart voting but fell just behind Ryan Miller.
A free agent heading into the 2010-11 offseason, the Coyotes were unable to meet his contract demands, and traded his negotiation rights to the Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round pick in 2012, forward Matt Clackson, and future considerations.
It wasn’t the only move that Philly would make. In order to fit the staggering nine-year, $51-million deal that would pay him $5.66-million a year, they traded Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Mike Richards to the LA Kings. It marked a significant change of guard, and the hauls were massive.
For Carter, the Flyers received forward Jakub Voracek along with first and third-round picks in 2011. Those picks were later used to draft Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins. In the Richards trade, the Kings would send back forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, as well as a second-round pick. That pick was later sent to Dallas, who drafted former Oilers forward Devin Shore.

An article by the Philadelphia Daily News’ Frank Seravalli details Ilya Bryzgalov’s early struggles with the Flyers.

Back to Bryz, however, as things did not start off on a great foot. Through his first seven games, he posted a 3-3-1 record and a .884 save percentage admitting: “I have zero confidence in myself right now. If you probably threw a [beach] ball instead of a puck, I would still not stop it. I am terrible. I want to apologize in front of the fans, in front of my teammates.”
So uh… yeah, not great. His teammates brushed off his self-deprecating words with forward James van Riemsdyk saying “it’s a team game” and that it all didn’t fall on him.
Things didn’t get better that year, either. With the Flyers slated to take on the New York Rangers in the Winter Classic in early January 2012, Bryzgalov’s harsh critiques of himself continued.
“I have great news and even better news. Great news: I’m not playing [Monday in the Winter Classic]. And good news: We have a chance to win the game.”
The comments came with him adding it’s not the end of the world he was being benched, but his 3.01 GAA and .890 save percentage were career lows for the then 31-year-old.
A bright spot would come in March when he set the Flyers’ shutout streak record by posting four shutouts and allowing just two goals in a five-game span. It would land him the NHL’s first star of the month honours, but things wouldn’t improve.
By season’s end, he had a .909 save percentage and a 2.48 GAA and after a tumultuous 2012-13 season saw his numbers dip even further, the Flyers bought out the remaining seven years of his contract.
Enter Craig MacTavish and the Edmonton Oilers — albeit, a little later than some thought.
With Bryzgalov free to ink a deal with whomever he pleased following his buyout, he didn’t do that. Instead, he remained at home and went into the 2013-14 season without a contract.
In early November, however, the Oilers were looking to shake things up and brought in Bryzgalov on a one-year, $2-million deal. It wasn’t the only move the Oilers made on Nov. 8, as in order to sign Bryzgalov to push Devan Dubnyk, they needed to clear some cap space.

A Nov. 19, 2013 Edmonton Journal article talks about how Ilya Bryzgalov wants to prove those who have doubted him wrong.

That happened with a rare trade between the Oilers and the Calgary Flames — one that saw Edmonton send hard-nosed defenceman Ladislav Smid and goalie prospect Oliver Roy to Calgary in exchange for goaltender Laurent Brossoit, and depth forward Roman Horak.
Bryzgalov was determined to change things about his play and prove the plethora who doubted him wrong.
“Doesn’t matter what sport it is — hockey, football, baseball — you want to prove you’re good enough,” said Bryzgalov in late Nov. 2013, just after joining the Oilers following an AHL conditioning stint. “If you don’t want to do that or you are tired, then you should retire and let the young guys play.”
Bryzgalov’s time in Edmonton, however, was short. While he was pushing Dubnyk for ice time, he would get injured early in his Oilers tenure and it would impact his ability to do what he wanted to do, at least in Edmonton.
But truth of the matter is, over the 20 games he played, he had an 5-8-5 record, a .908 save percentage, and kept the Oilers in games. At the trade deadline, the Oilers would send him to the Minnesota Wild for a fourth-round pick that year that the team would use to select William Lagesson.
Bryzgalov would show well down the stretch for the Wild going 7-1-3 with a .911 save percentage and 2.12 GAA, but in the playoffs, his game fell apart going 3-6 with a .885.
He would sign with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15, but played in just eight games with a .847 save percentage signalling the end of his playing career.
The Ilya Bryzgalov trade tree is still alive in Edmonton, however. Lagesson would remain in the Oilers organization until the 2022 season, when he, alongside a second-round pick that year, were sent to the Montreal Canadiens for defenceman Brett Kulak.

How many days are left until the Edmonton Oilers start the 2023-24 season? 80!

Can you guess who will be featured in tomorrow’s countdown?

Previous days


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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