Ilya Bryzgalov has returned and he is ready to redeem himself.
The enigmatic goalie joined the Edmonton Oilers for his first practice with the struggling NHL club on Monday and the hockey world tuned in to listen to what the colourful Russian had to say.
He likely won't play Tuesday, when the Oilers host the Columbus Blue Jackets. Oilers incumbent Devan Dubnyk has played too well in his last three outings. He has stopped 90 of 96 shots and has looked like the No. 1 goalie the Oilers thought they had at the beginning of the season.
Dubnyk, 27, still has plenty to prove. But so does Bryzgalov. Once considered among the game's elite goalkeepers, Bryzgalov struggled in his past two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was bought out - the Flyers will pay him $23-million over 14 years - and put out on the curb.
Along came the Oilers. They signed him Nov. 8 to a one-year, $1.75-million deal in which a $1-million was a signing bonus. He played two games in the AHL last weekend. The first was not so good. He lost a 5-4 decision and made only 19 saves. The second was much better. He turned aside 25 of 26 shots to win.
The 33-year-old Bryzgalov appeared upbeat about his opportunity with the Oilers.
"It didn't make me angry. Why?" he said, when asked about his flop with the Flyers.
"Doesn't matter what sport it is - hockey, football, baseball - you want to prove you're good enough. If you don't want to do that or you are tired, then you should retire and let the young guys play.
"You have to be yourself. You can judge me at the end of the season, not from people from the side who might be bringing personal feelings. You can tell me after the season, guys, what you think.
"I am just glad to be back in the NHL, to get this opportunity with the Edmonton organization. We all know the great heritage here - great players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish. It's a Canadian city where people care about hockey."
Bryzgalov never seems tired. Put a microphone in front of him or turn on a camera and he is on. He is a beauty. Remember when he found out Sergei Bobrovsky was starting the 2012 Winter Classic?
"I have great news and even better news," he said. "Okay, great news is I'm not playing and better news is we have a chance to win the game. I'll make sure I don't forget my thermos with some nice tea and enjoy the bench."
Then, this gem before the Flyers faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, when asked if he was concerned about going up against Sidney Crosby and the high-flying Penguins: "You know, I'm not afraid of anything. I'm afraid of bear - bears in the forest."
Bryzgalov became a star in the HBO 24/7 series leading up to that Winter Classic a few years ago. So when the Oilers were in the Philadelphia area 10 days ago, Edmonton rookie head coach Dallas Eakins visited Bryzgalov to find out for himself what his new goalie was all about.
"I find Bryz to be a very intelligent man, maybe with different interests from myself and his teammates," Eakins said. "I have no concern how he was framed in the TV show.
"Whatever happened there [in Philadelphia], I saw bits and frames of it from afar. He seems so far past it. It was a turbulent time with a team, an organization and certain individuals in it.
"It's over. The main thing was, 'Did we think he could stop the puck.'"
There was a time when there was no doubt. In his last two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, he compiled 78 wins and an impressive .921 save percentage. But in Philadelphia, that save percentage dipped to .909 in 2011-12 and .900 last year.
Still, Russia had faith in him. His country made him No. 1 at the 2013 world championship and he responded with three wins in four games.
Bryzgalov even finished his season with Philadelphia with a solid 6-3-1 run. But as he remarked on Monday, the past is the past. He needs to establish himself in Edmonton and become accustomed to his new setting.
"I was born in Soviet Union. We get cold weather, where they cancel the school," he said.
Perfect. What a beauty.
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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