Rambler's Top100

26 2007 . 
Bryzgalov addition great for Phoenix // FOXSport.com

Jeff Gordon

Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke wanted to open a roster spot for goaltender Jonas Hiller. The quality European import was wasting his time in the AHL and getting wooed by a Russian team with a $1.5 million offer.

Unable to find a trade partner to take Ilya Bryzgalov who is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season Burke simply placed the outstanding netminder on waivers.

"What I promised Bryz is that I would find him a place to play," Burke told the Canadian Press. "Bryz is a great kid and a loyal soldier. He's won three playoff rounds for us and he deserves to play somewhere. But I was unable to move him."

So the holiday season arrived early for the Phoenix Coyotes. By claiming Bryzgalov and the remainder of his $1.36 million salary, Wayne Gretzky's mid-budget team suddenly became viable in the Western Conference.

Some NHL observers wonder if the Coyotes were merely lucky in this deal. The Capitals could have claimed Bryzgalov, but took a pass after dealing defenseman Brian Sutherby to the Ducks for a second-round pick. The only way this scenario makes sense, though, is if Anaheim gets something nice from Phoenix closer to the trade deadline or agrees to take some salary if cap space is needed to bring Scott Niedermayer out of retirement.

As for Bryzgalov, he magically won his first four starts for his new team.

"He is truly one of the pieces of this puzzle," Gretzky said after Bryzgalov beat the Maple Leafs. "He's helped us turn this team around and maybe our franchise. It's only four games and we have a long way to go. It's a nice start for him."

NHL fans aren't surprised because Bryzgalov did a terrific job spelling Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim. So good, in fact, that Giguere became the subject of assorted trade rumors himself over the years.

"I just try to make my job, stop the puck," Brzygalov told the Arizona Republic. "They played good hockey. We had wonderful shots; they created traffic in front. They worked hard. We are moving in the right direction, and that's very important for us."

Now THIS was how the salary cap system was supposed to save the NHL. Although the cap figure of $50.3 million is about $15 million more than most franchises can actually afford for payroll, it does help maintain some competitive balance.

Burke had many difficult choices to make after his team won the Stanley Cup. For instance, he opted not to match Edmonton's free-agent offer sheet to Dustin Penner, noting that it bore no correlation to the kid's real worth.

The Ducks GM had decisions to make at every position. Keeping both Bryzgalov and Giguere became problematic, especially with Hiller starring in training camp and Ilya looking for more money and more playing time in 2008-09.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, bid farewell to veteran Curtis Joseph and went to camp with Alex Auld, David Aebischer and Michael Tellqvist competing for the job. The results were not encouraging.

So Phoenix general manager Don Maloney was thrilled to claim Bryzgalov, who allowed just six goals during his four-game surge.

Brygalov, 27, is just hitting his athletic prime. If he continues to star in Phoenix, Maloney should buck up, extend Ilya's contract for three or four years and turn his attention to other team needs.

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