Thursday, May 10, 2012

Holmgren professes faith, patience in Bryzgalov

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Of all the personalities who are paid for it or who are lucky enough to have an uncompensated outlet to broadcast an opinion on the state of the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending, the only one whose thoughts really matter is general manager Paul Holmgren.

Although it's still up for debate whether or not he was the one who truly wanted Ilya Bryzgalov to fill the never-ending, always-swirling dark vortex of long-term difference-maker for the franchise, Holmgren was the one who dealt for his rights and then signed him to that $51 million, eight-year deal almost a year ago.

In the wake of an 11-game playoff sojourn that did little to reveal Bryzgalov's true talent, worth to the club's playoff hopes or a genuine quantifiable bead on just how he fared overall, Holmgren of course took the positive mindset during a wide-ranging Thursday press conference during the Flyers' break-up day:

"He had a lot of things to adjust to and react to from playing in Philadelphia, the scrutiny of the media and the scrutiny of the fans compared to what he came from (in Phoenix) with a different style of play. I don't think there's any question that Ilya will be better next year."

That vote of confidence came hours before a tweet from Sovetsky's Natalia Bragilevskaya was released, quoting the 31-year-old as saying he misses Mother Russia.

And then this, longer passage from the interview, courtesy of Metro's Dave Isaac: "What I lived through this season I wouldn't wish to an enemy… I understand the fans. They paid their money and want the show. But many forget that we are not robots, but living people. We have feelings, worries. It's easy to turn away when the club is going through tough times. Don't denounce your team. There won't be a different one."

Whatever people make of the polarity between the two, Bryzgalov will have, and certainly does deserve, some time to relax, reflect and recharge.

Holmgren's words may be those of reassurance and challenge, all at the same time. A call to be more consistent, to block out the nonsense that surrounded the fabricated drama of his interactions with the media -- what Homer called "Comedy Central" as a deterrent from doing his job, which is to stop pucks.

There were times he didn't do enough of that, allowing four goals or more on 18 occasions (two of those in partial appearances). There were times he looked unbeatable, as in his March streak of four shutouts in five starts which included that record whitewash string of 249:43.

And it had been a trying season, to say the least, for a soft-spoken man more prone to pondering matters light years beyond the locker room and offering up praise to his teammates than providing true insight into his performance.  

Still, there was little in-between to act as a control amongst the extremes. The same went for the postseason, where Bryzgalov claimed the crease version of the Toilet Bowl over Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, yet was the best player on the ice for wide swaths of at least three games of a five-game loss to New Jersey.

"Did he play as good as I expected this year, I'd say no," Holmgren added. "But I think he's got one year under his belt...I said this before about other players who sign big contracts and come here...there's an adjustment period. Kimmo went through it, Danny Briere went through it. In that position, goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers, I think he handled it pretty good."

So why, exactly, shouldn't he get a mulligan?

And Briere, whose NHL career began in the Valley of the Sun, backs up that sentiment: "There's no doubt in my mind it's going to be easier for him now that he's settled in, now that he knows the system and knows his teammates. He knows how it works...I went through it myself my first year. It was a tough, trying year. You learn from that."

Now, with his teammates and general manager guarding his back, it's time for Bryzgalov come back ready to prove himself in Year Two, to reward that patience with stops from the front.
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