“I look at this as a great opportunity,” Bryzgalov said.
When the Wild traded for Bryzgalov at around 1 p.m. State of Hockey Time, it looked like he’d be one of three goaltenders suiting up for the team’s stretch run, along with Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom—while Josh Harding still feels ill and his status becomes more and more doubtful.
Bryzgalov wasn’t aware of the Wild’s goaltending situation, but he’s likely to see more of an opportunity than he might’ve expected. That’s because General Manager Chuck Fletcher also announced the team plans on shutting down Backstrom until next season.
“Over the last couple of weeks it’s become apparent Nik Backstrom has had increasing difficulty playing,” Fletcher said. “After speaking to Nik yesterday, I told him we are going to shut him down for the foreseeable future.
“At this point, he’s most likely out for the season, you never know with Nik. But we’re operating under the assumption that he’ll be out until next season.”
Last year, Backstrom’s season ended when he suffered a sports hernia before Game 1 of the Wild’s first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. The goaltender missed time earlier this season with a knee injury and an upper-body injury suffered during game action. Fletcher believed that Backstrom was never fully healthy all season and may need a procedure, but doctors will determine that.
“I give Nik a lot of credit, I think a lot of goaltenders probably would’ve shut down a month or two ago, but he’s battled through it all year,” Fletcher said.
After Fletcher spoke with Backstrom yesterday, the GM said trade talks to acquire another goaltender started to heat up. With the Wild playing its final 20 games in a 37-day sprint (including four sets of back-to-back contests), the GM needed to find a capable backup to emerging starter, Kuemper. Fletcher’s checklist included an experienced netminder, who had playoff experience, and, maybe most importantly, one who would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Bryzgalov fit the bill.
“We wanted to have some flexibility moving forward,” Fletcher said. “He’ll come in and give us some depth and fit very well with Darcy Kuemper as we go down the stretch.”
Of course, it helps that Fletcher has some experience with the Togliatti, Russia native. The Wild GM was with the Anaheim Ducks’ organization at the same time as Bryzgalov, who was drafted by the Ducks in second round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. While Bryzgalov is “colorful” according to Fletcher, he’ll be a good fit in the Minnesota dressing room, something important with only one-quarter of the season left.
“Ilya’s a good guy,” Fletcher said. “He’s colorful, certainly is known to have a few good sound bites from time to time.”
In his NHL career, Bryzgalov has won 213 games, with a career .913 save percentage, 2.57 goals-against average and 31 shutouts in stints with Anaheim, Phoenix, Flyers and Edmonton. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound netminder won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and represented Russia at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics. He will wear number 30 with Minnesota.
“We felt a fourth-round pick was something we could handle,” Fletcher said. “We weren’t interested in moving any of our young players or our younger assets, and certainly not interested in moving any higher picks in this situation.”
The Wild is off tomorrow and Bryzgalov is expected to join the team on Thursday for practice. Of course, the goaltender recently saw his new team in action, as Minnesota won in Edmonton, 3-0, on Feb. 27.
“They play hard, they play very solid hockey,” Bryzgalov said. “I think we have a very, very good team.”
The netminder is happy to join a team in the thick of the playoff hunt that, according to Bryzgalov, is, “capable to do lots of damage in the playoffs.”
“It’s the most exciting time of the year, playoffs,” Bryzgalov said. “I really appreciate Chuck Fletcher who’s giving me the opportunity and the whole organization, the Minnesota Wild, to play and fight for the playoffs.”
Fletcher also likes the way the club’s roster looks heading into the final 20 games of the regular season. The Wild owns one of the League’s best records since Jan. 1, going 14-4-2 in 2014, and looks like it is continuing to build. However with tomorrow’s Trade Deadline Day wrapping at 2 p.m. CST, the club’s general manager—who isn’t afraid to make bold moves to improve the team—isn’t turning off his cell phone anytime soon.
“We’ll see,” Fletcher said. “Looks like there are some things starting to happen around the league,” Fletcher said. “There might be some trickle down, you never know. Some players are moving and some teams might have some different guys to trade.”
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