When the Philadelphia Flyers went back to their locker room to clean out their stalls for the season on Thursday, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was the only player who did not make himself available to the media to talk about the disappointing end for the Stanley Cup hopefuls and his role in their demise. However, Bryzgalov had no problem opening up to a newspaper in Russia about his experiences in Philly and what he went through as the starting goaltender.
“What I lived through this season I wouldn’t wish to an enemy,” Bryzgalov told SovSport in an interview translated by Philly.com. “I need to keep working. I understand the fans. They paid their money and want the show. But many forget that we are not robots, but living people. We have feelings, worries.”
When Bryzgalov became a free agent last summer, it became clear that he was looking to become one of the highest paid goalies in the league and he wanted to play for a contender. So Bryzgalov signed a nine-year contract with the Flyers, and his $10 million salary this past season not only made him the highest paid goalie for the year by a long shot, but also the third highest paid player for the 2011-12 season overall.
Evidently Bryzgalov didn’t know what he was really asking for when he wanted to sign for big bucks.
“I got very tired this season, to be honest,” he said. “Now I know what it’s like to be a goaltender in Philadelphia. Maybe from the outside it looks like there’s nothing to it. You only realize it on your own.”
Bryzgalov played well during the regular season, posting a 33-16-7 record with a .909 save percentage and six shutouts. However, his play slipped dramatically during the postseason and he seemed to begin to cave under the pressure. Bryzgalov won five of 11 games in the postseason while posting a 3.46 goals against average and a .887 save percentage. He allowed 37 goals on 326 shots. For reference, Martin Brodeur has faced 314 shots and only allowed 25 goals against.
“It is difficult” he said. “My face is everywhere. Everyone is talking about me: ‘Bryzgalov played well.’ ‘Philadelphia won, but Bryz made a mistake again.’ ‘Yes, he wasn’t scored against but could have been.'”
“Who doesn’t make mistakes?” he asked. “How many [pucks] did I catch before then? But very few notice that. People are so concentrated on the negative that they only see the bad in me. But I think you need to be kinder to each other.”
While the demise of the Flyers in this year’s playoffs isn’t entirely on the shoulders of Bryzgalov, he failed to have the impact that fans and management expected when they signed him to a lucrative deal. Not once did he steal a game for Philly, rather he played well enough for the offense to win games or he simply let in less goals than his defensively inept opponents (here’s looking at you, Pittsburgh). Some timely saves, like the clip seen in the link, don’t overshadow the fact that a team with incredibly high expectations was upset in the second round of the playoffs.
It’s hard to have sympathy for a player like Bryzgalov, who sought out the spotlight and wanted the big bucks when he left Phoenix last season, and it’s highly unlikely that Flyers fans will have any sympathy for him either – especially after he refused to address the local media and then opened up to a Russian news outlet so soon after. The move looks cowardly. And cowardly isn’t exactly what you want to give Flyers fans and the Philadelphia media. They will eat you alive and aren’t quick to forgive or forget.
When a team pays you $10 million a season, they expect more than some flighty thoughts on space and the universe. They expect a Stanley Cup. Bryzgalov better improve his mental fortitude over the summer, because the likelihood that fans forgive him his mistakes for “being human” over the next eight years seems highly doubtful.