When the Edmonton Oilers signed Ilya Bryzgalov shortly after the fall of Devan Dubnyk, many naysayers were calling the signing a desperate move. Hailed as the effort of a fledgling GM who had no other options, critics were harsh, stating that if the other 29 teams in the NHL didn’t want him, why would the Edmonton Oilers?
The critics were silenced somewhat by fairly solid play from the eclectic netminder. At the same time, it didn’t seem as though teams were knocking down the door to acquire him. Craig Mactavish only needed to unload a little cash Bryzgalov’s way, with his signing a free agent deal. After his massive payout from the Philadelphia Flyers, he wasn’t seeking an immediate payday.
In the end, the Oilers looked good, or so it seems. They got a better goaltender than Dubnyk, which gave the players more confidence to win. Come trade deadline, the Oilers picked up a fourth round pick for the vocal puck stopper. Later, they would sign Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, seemingly putting together a solid tandem.
Fast forward to today. Bryzgalov hasn’t lost in regulation in fifteen games, and is 7-0-3 with the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are playoff bound, and have a hot tender to rely on. This likely has fans licking their chops, wondering what we are going to miss, lamenting yet another former Oiler who came to life elsewhere.
Keep in mind, however, that Bryzgalov is playing in front of a better defense. He likely is also energized by the fact the post season is ahead of him. Many goalies are lit up by the opportunity to back stop their team to a potential championship, and he has that chance in the former home of the North Stars.
If the recent play of Bryzgalov means anything in hindsight, its that even an exceptional goaltender will fare worse if his teammates aren’t protecting the net. The defensive woes of the Edmonton Oilers are well documented. While there are bright spots like Martin Marincin and a line of up and comers from the farm, we shouldn’t expect “lights out” from anyone, until the blue line is fully remedied.
So, should the Oilers have kept him? Maybe. If he goes far for Minnesota, he will demand more money than management would have been willing to spend in free agency. He is older than Viktor Fasth, and will see worse results as he ages, while Fasth and Scrivens have shown to be wise choices. In the end, it was a risk letting him go, but it always stings when what you let get away looks good after it leaves. Fans ought to be confident in our current tandem, both in terms of leadership, and in skill.