I can't help but wonder what happened to Ilya Bryzgalov. I mean, I know what happened. I live in Philadelphia and have covered virtually every Flyers home game for the last two years, both of which featured Bryzgalov as the team's goaltender.
What I mean is it's crazy to think a few summers ago the Flyers were so convinced of his value that they would offer him a bloated nine-year, $51 million contract and now Russia won't even invite him to their Olympic orientation camp, in addition to Bryzgalov being a free agent.
It's difficult to think of a player who has experienced such a fall in such a short span of time.
Bryzgalov is an individual who has become polarizing. In debating whether I should even write about him, I came to the conclusion that the comments section could be filled with words such as 'sucks,' 'overrated,' or 'selfish' and that I should just deal with that possibility and write this anyway.
I don't think Bryzgalov is bad. I think he's definitely played bad at times over the course of the last two years, but I don't think he is unable to be a productive professional goaltender. I also think he is good enough to earn an invite to Russia's orientation camp, especially when looking at the list of goaltenders who are going.
I think Bill Meltzer put it best on twitter yesterday afternoon when he summarized Bryzgalov as being his own worst enemy.
When I step back from the situation and try to formulate a timeline in my head, negative things stand out with Bryzgalov. Whether it's his on-ice performance or media availabilities, few positives come to the forefront. That's not completely his fault, but he certainly played a significant part in it. While he hasn't always been treated fairly (at times he's been outright disrespected), he had the option of taking control of the situation. He came up short on occasion. He's human, it's understandable.
However, to act like some of the shortcomings weren't self-inflicted is being dishonest about the sequence of events that have led up to this point in time.
I can't begin to imagine what his personal relationships are like with people in the industry. It would be lazy and reckless for me to speculate about how they view him. However, his availability on the free agent market and his exclusion from Russia's camp certainly gives an indication about how they view his ability as a player. At the very least, they don't think his play proportionately compensates the circus that seemingly comes along with him (regardless of location).
I don't know what the future holds for Bryzgalov. I'm obviously not an insider and I have no sources. At the end of the 2013 season, I thought he would be in the NHL in 2013-14. I didn't think it would be with the Flyers, but I thought he was good enough that another club would quickly snatch him up. In fact, I thought it was ridiculous when other writers suggested he would have to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
As the calendar approaches August, I'm not as sure in my initial opinion.
Personally, I love a reclamation story. I'm drawn to an individual's ability to face adversity and battle it back despite the odds being stacked against them. It's encouraging to me that a person can actively put forth the effort to change themselves for the better.
Hopefully, Bryzgalov will at least get the opportunity to attempt to do so.