It’s always sunny in Philadelphia when I call Ilya Bryzgalov.
Joyful, honest, talkative and — yep — unpredictable, the goaltender/analyst/hockey dad/amateur astronomer speaks for more than 30 minutes on a variety of topics: how Doug Armstrong should handle Kevin Shattenkirk, the way Randy Carlyle used to be, which Canadian teams won’t make the playoffs, what it must be like to play net for a team as bad as Colorado, why he’d make an excellent Vegas Golden Knight, dwarf planets, and the great myth that is global warming.
It’s me and the Bryz.
So fill up your Thermos with something delicious and enjoy this taster of what Sportsnet is in for when we invited Bryzgalov to guest as a trade deadline analyst on March 1.
SPORTSNET.CA: Where are you right now?
ILYA BRYZGALOV: I’m just outside in the street. We’ve got some 20° Celsius. Beautiful in Philadelphia.
So you’re not in California? You have a California area code.
When I play in California, I bought the phone and I keep it. We got some spring coming in Philly. How’s the weather in Canada?
Weirdly warm for February. I know you were at the All-Star Game reporting for the Players’ Tribune, and you’re analyzing trade deadline on the Sportsnet broadcast, but what else is going on in your life?
Hockey and figure skating. My son [Vladislav] plays hockey, and next week they play for the state championship. They’ve got a top team. Lots of tournaments. That’s what keeps me busy. Take care of my house.
Are you coaching your son’s team?
No, I just coach my son. They have a good coach. I don’t like to interrupt. He’s got much more experience than me. Working with kids, I mean.
I’m assuming your son’s a goalie.
Did you push him to that position or was he drawn naturally?
No! He liked it. That’s why he chose it. He’s the guy who gives his team a chance to win. Make some saves. But he plays as a player once a week, too. Shoots the puck on goalies every Wednesday pretty much.
How would you describe your temperament as a hockey dad?
I’m pretty calm. I only get upset when I see the referees make the bad calls. The kids work so hard and play so passionately, you can’t take sides. Only when the referee’s unfair.
Let’s talk NHL. How many Canadian teams will make the playoffs?
Last year was none, right?
What we got? Montreal, they’re in the picture. Winnipeg doesn’t have much games left. Maple Leafs, I think they’re going to make it. Good for them. Ottawa is good. Vancouver, Calgary? No. Edmonton is very good; they’ll make it. See what happened? As soon as they got a new building, boom.
You think that has something to do with it?
What? You think it’s players? Of course not. It’s the building.
The Golden Knights are coming. What was it like being a pro hockey player living in Vegas and practising with the Wranglers [in 2013]?
I hope [Golden Knights GM] George McPhee, he can read this article. It’s going to be no problem for me. I’m family guy, settled down. I’ve never been too emotional or casino-addicted. For me, no problem. For the young guys to play there, it causes trouble, man. Difficult trouble.
You noticed that among Wranglers?
East Coast Hockey League guys don’t have much money for the celebrations and parties. They’re just good guys, hardworking. They love hockey. NHL is different. The young ones with the cash? Las Vegas can provide lots of scenes, know what I mean?
Not many young guys can say, “It’s not for me. I have things to do here.” We’ll see how much trouble can be in Las Vegas. But! I think it can be a fun place to play.
“It’s the goalies who wake up with the L on the forehead.”
San Jose has stolen some of the buzz in California. What do you make of your old team, the Ducks, this year under Randy Carlyle?
Randy, I heard he changed a lot. He always been pushy. Hard on the young players. Constant work. Barely see a day off. That was 10 years ago. Now, I heard from the guys he’s changed. They have a good coach. They need some additions in the offensive zone, the top two lines. They have good, solid, fast defencemen. Sami Vatanen, for example, can jump in offence. Cam Fowler. They have old offence. They need a good trade, a good forward on the first two lines.
And they have young D-men they could trade to get one.
Colorado! Oh, my God, they need a total rebuild in culture.
Do you know Semyon Varlamov?
How’s he coping with the situation there?
For goalies, it’s different. The players? They lost, fine. But it’s the goalies who wake up with the L on the forehead. That goes on your stats. Players, they get a minus. Not that bad! For goalies, it’s devastating to play on a team like that. Losing after losing.
Can you describe what it’s like to be a player in the days leading up to the deadline?
I was only traded once, from Edmonton [to Minnesota in March 2014, for a fourth-round pick], and most of the time I played I was for sure confident. Like, I’m not going to be traded. Whether being a starting goalie playing well or having no-move, no-trade clauses. You’re sure nothing’s going to happen. Sometimes you go into a practice and some player’s not dressed. You think, “Oh, somebody’s getting traded.” It’s part of the hockey.
What was the hardest part of the Edmonton trade?
The most difficult part was finding a new apartment and cutting the keys. Boom. Because when I go to Minnesota, they get you a ticket for the flight, they give you a car right away, hotel, everything’s set up. You just go to practice and start working. A couple tips from the coaches and the guys—what system they’re playing. For a goalie, it’s easy. Just how they like you to play the puck behind the net. Doesn’t change your job: You have to stop the puck.
“I hope George McPhee, he can read this article. I’ve never been too emotional or casino-addicted.”
Is there a memorable trade of a teammate that hit you emotionally?
I always tried to have a good relationship with everyone but never too close. In Phoenix, one of my buddies, a Russian guy [Enver Lisin], got traded, but it was in the summer. We were in an NHLPA meeting. I was a little upset: Ah, man. I was happy for him because he got a chance to play for the Rangers, but I was feeling lonely. Another Russian guy, he never played NHL but got called up in the Premier games in the Czech Republic. He got sent down and I was, “Oh, no, I’m the lone Russian here in the locker room.” A little bit sad. It’s nice to have a countryman to talk in your own language. You understand completely.
Trades have to be hard on the family.
You have to get your kids out of the school. You got to find a new house or rent house. New school. Lots of pressure for the wife. They usually deal with the stuff. Difficult for the kids, too. Come to different town, go to different school, try to make the new friends. That’s the most difficult part. An adult gets along better than kids. Lots of bullies in schools, you’ve heard about it. Kids have no mercy.
What do you make of the goaltending in St. Louis?
They have potential in this guy, [Jake] Allen. He’s got to find his confidence back. What goalie can go make a huge difference? St. Louis tried once with Ryan Miller. They hoped it’d make a difference. Yes, the goalie needs to make the incredible save at the right time, but if the team’s not playing [well], he can’t win the Cup by himself.
Are some GMs overlooking the importance of a backup goalie for the playoff push?
When I won the Cup with Anaheim, [J.S. Giguere] played. You need that. It’s a different era with the salary cap. You can’t have a backup goalie with a big salary because it hurts your team in a different position. Remember last time Chicago won the Cup? Corey Crawford couldn’t find his game in the beginning and the backup… Harding?
Darling come out and played well. Got the team to the second round and they won the Cup. It’s very, very important to have two great goalies. In the early stage, your starter might not have confidence. You need one or two games where the other guy steps up. Last year [Tampa’s Ben] Bishop got hurt. [Andrei] Vasilevskiy came out and played outstanding. He gave the team a chance to win against Pittsburgh. Sometimes the goalie is 70 to 80 per cent of the winning.
It’s the way teams play in front of the goalies. Some play loosey-goosey, give up lots of shots, but all the shots are 100 per cent scoring chances: breakaways, odd-man rushes. And the goalie gives up four or five goals per game and looks terrible in stats. Other teams give up 35 shots a night but they’re all outside shots and he sees everything. On paper, he looks great.
“I got a secret: After this season there’s going to be another season.”
With no contract in place for next season, we’ve seen guys like Bishop, Brian Elliott and Steve Mason struggle for stretches this year. Does job security creep into a goalie’s mind?
Of course. If you’re not old, you’re not ready for retire[ment]. I can only speak for myself. When that’s uncertain and you have family, kids, you think, “Oh, my God. I gotta find a job!” So many goalies take the job for a long time, so it’s easy to be out of game. You worry. You want to find a long-term job, pay bills. It’s not a secret. That’s why when there’s no [contractual] certainty and you don’t see 100 per cent confidence from your team, it might affect your game. If the season’s not going well, you start thinking about it. Not good. Look at Brian Elliott. Last year, different team and his stats were different. Now, he struggle. Different team. They got much more scoring chances against him. That’s why everything drops. But he’s the same guy.
What got you back on track during a slump?
Continuing to work hard. Simplifying my game. Not trying to make crazy saves. Suddenly you make a couple simple saves, make one great save, and you’ve got your confidence back. Oh, my God. Just like that. Best part: Don’t read the media. This is most important.
Did you read articles about yourself?
Sometimes, yes. Most of the times I read, they have no idea what they’re talking about. Like, 95 per cent.
The biggest surprise you’ve seen this season?
Young guys like Laine in Winnipeg. Phenomenal, unbelievable. Already 30 goals? For a young guy? What is he, 19?
Crazy. Thirty goals in the league. Not easy place to play. NHL is best league. He’s a scoring machine. It’s amazing.
As a goalie facing a sniper like a Laine or Ovechkin, do they force you to play differently?
The game’s so fast, sometimes you don’t realize they’re on the ice. A power play, OK. You look: That guy, that guy, that guy. A stoppage. But changing on the fly? You look up, OK, he’s here, shot, a goal. Can’t stop it.
Kevin Shattenkirk is the biggest deadline name out there. Should the Blues keep him and go for it, or do you sell to the highest bidder?
If I’m GM and I have no chance to re-sign him and I’m in playoff picture, I got to check who I replace him with. For St. Louis, it’s a lot to think. Lots of work has to be done. They got Shattenkirk. They maybe need a goalie. Maybe, maybe. All depends. They need some offence, too. If you’ve got a valuable offensive player you can’t re-sign, why not trade him [to St. Louis]. I got a secret: After this season there’s going to be another season. It never ends, the building project.
Who’s your Cup favourite?
It all depends who’s playing who in the playoffs. I like Washington, Minnesota. Chicago is very skilled. For example, if Washington plays against the Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh always beats the Washington. Over. Same thing. Columbus could be a surprise. They score a lot, they have a good goaltender, they play with confidence, good defence. Maybe they don’t have experience, but who cares? Experience, that part I never understand. Sounds like analytics right now. [Sarcastically:] “Oh! They don’t have experience!”
“There is no way we’ll create something that will travel so fast to get there.”
Did you see that NASA discovered seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star?
I saw that. They’re looking for the ninth planet in the solar system because there’s lots of things they want to do. Trust me, I was sure there are plenty planets in the universe that are liveable for the humans. But! I have bad news for you: We have no chance to go out there. So we need to take care of our planet first. Stop littering. There is no way we’ll create something that will travel so fast to get there.
I have to agree.
Oh, yeah. They can find it when they got better telescopes, because right now they’re not that good. Pluto was a dwarf planet. They downsized it from a regular planet in 2006. OK, so they get a new telescope—I can’t remember the name—and say, “Oh, Pluto is much bigger than we expect!” Probably a couple years later, there’ll be a ninth planet. They change their minds every single time.
Another thing: We talk about global warming and—boom—most cold winter in Europe in hundreds of years. Most cold winter in Russia. I guess global warming is done. It goes to the ice age.
Well, it’s been unseasonably warm in Ontario, and probably in Philly, too.
When I just came here, spring was early. Last couple ones was not that early. Middle of April, a huge snowstorm. This whole global warming is all BS. [Sarcastically:] The ice is melting, it’s so scary, it’s so dangerous. Yeah, melting. It’s like the buildings and roads built by the Romans: It’s the normal cycle of the planet Earth. Get warmer, get colder. You got what you need?
Yes. Thanks for your time. This has been fun. See you Wednesday.
Where can I read this? I want to read on a web page.
Yep, it’ll be on a web page. I’ll send you a link.
Thank you very much. Bye.