Tomorrow night, the Flyers will host the Phoenix Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center in what promises to be an emotional affair for Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
It was in Phoenix where Bryz rose to prominence. He averaged 33 wins per season as the Coyotes’ starter and backstopped them to consecutive playoff appearances after a six-year absence. In 2009-10, he was the runner-up to Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller.
That rise to prominence saw him sign a nine-year, $51-million deal with the Flyers this summer, making him one of the highest-paid players in hockey.
Needless to say, Bryz looks back on his time in Phoenix with fondness.
“I really appreciate everything they did for me,” Bryzgalov told Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia. “I wish them the best. I’m really glad they are doing well without me because they deserve it. They work extremely hard.
“They have beautiful people in that organization. Management and coaches and a good group of guys. Maybe not like superstar players, but a group of guys like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, a good defense and all the team works together in the offensive and defensive zone.”
Speaking of Yandle, he’s an interesting character in the Bryzgalov-Phoenix-Philly saga. This past summer, the ‘Yotes had two key free agents to deal with: Bryzgalov (UFA) and Yandle (RFA). Phoenix deemed Bryzgalov expendable but broke the bank for Yandle — five years, $26.25-million, making him the highest-paid player on the team.
If that wasn’t a clear indicator of who the Coyotes thought was more vital to their success, they then turned around and signed former Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith to a modest two-year, $4-million deal…and are chugging along just fine. Phoenix has a lower goals-against average this year (2.44) than last (2.68) and is just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.