Bryzgalov came over to the Wild at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers as the team’s goaltending car wreck began to reach drive-by-and-gawk levels. Josh Harding hadn’t played a game in 2014 and Niklas Backstrom was playing infrequently due to a lingering “core” problem that stemmed from offseason hernia surgery.
Darcy Kuemper had carried the team for most of 2014 and was playing outstanding, but the Wild needed a reliable, non-injured back-up for Kuemper to take the team down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Bryzgalov wound up having to take center stage when Kuemper went out with a concussion late in the season. He went 7-1-3, with his only loss coming in the final game of the season in an absolutely painful loss to Nashville that included this blooper.
He struggled early in the playoffs and had to be relieved by a newly healthy Kuemper, who then went down in Game 7 of the opening round with another concussion. (I think those are all the highlights of the soap opera from Bryzgalov’s signing to the end of the season…)
Back to the Future
Back to the point: Bryzgalov has expressed interest in returning to Minnesota. Here’s the quote from Bryzgalov’s agent Ritch Winter in the Russo blog post:
“Ilya would very much like to return to the Wild and further the success the team had down the stretch last year,” agent Ritch Winter said. “It was one of the most satisfying experiences he has had in his career.
“Ilya loved his teammates in Minnesota, loved the city and loved and appreciated the support he received from the coaching staff and Wild fans. He would love to be a part of helping this team to enjoy the success they had together last year.
“He has instructed me to do all I can to facilitate a return to the Twin Cities even if it requires him to compromise somewhat to accommodate the budget issues facing the team if that becomes a possibility.”
How Crazy Of An Idea Is It?
On one level, this is totally crazy. The Wild have a mess between the pipes before we start discussing adding a fourth NHL-ready goaltender to the mix. Chuck Fletcher has said that he’s talked with both Harding and Backstrom and that both are healthy and ready to go for camp.
Kuemper is still without a contract, but is presumed to be returning and is the heir apparent. Fletcher has expressed that he’s ok having three goaltenders on their 23-man roster, meaning that he’s ready to give Kuemper a chance even if Harding and Backstrom are healthy.
On the other hand, if Kuemper is the heir to the throne, you must assume that the team wants him to get significant playing time, which he would definitely get in Iowa. If all three netminders are healthy, my guess is that Harding is the starter. Though he missed the second half of the season last year, he led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage and was playing the best hockey of his career. Russo corroborates Fletcher’s report on Harding’s health in the same article, noting that he saw Harding practice and that he looks “tremendous.”
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) August 19, 2014
Backstrom is aging and hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the last two seasons. If he’s unable to be counted on, Bryzgalov could be a viable replacement as the second string while Kuemper takes the lions share of the AHL minutes.
And then again — if I stop playing devil’s advocate — the Wild already have three goaltenders and Kuemper has proven that he’s capable of playing at the NHL level. If Harding or Backstrom winds up unable to perform, Kuemper is the most likely option to be the second goalie. And that’s if he doesn’t start the season performing great and take the starting job outright.
There’s more of a case to be made for Bryzgalov than you might think (assuming your initial reaction is, like mine, what?), but ultimately, at least before the season opens, this is wildly unlikely. Fletcher, who really likes Bryzgalov and knows him from their days in Anaheim, said as much without saying as much in Russo’s article. But he leaves the door open to a mid-season signing saying, “God forbid if a situation happens like last year, then we’ll deal with it.”
Though he certainly closes the door on a pre-season signing when he said, “We have three goalies. It’s not like we have one. We have three. We feel we have depth, quality and quantity, and there’s just no reason to doubt the players that are there.”
Anyone watching the Wild last year knows that anything can happen. The team may try to get the prize for most goaltenders in the season for a second year running, but, for now, the Wild will probably just stick with three goaltenders.