It is pretty evident that the relationship between Ilya Bryzgalov and Philadelphia Flyers fans has been rocky since the Russian goaltender began his first season of a nine-year, $51-million contract he signed last summer.
The former Vezina Trophy finalist has struggled to find his consistency while posting a 2.78 goals against average and a lowly .899 save percentage in 44 games this year, numbers that do not warrant a $10 million dollar pay-out this year.
Following a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last month, Bryzgalov's postgame comments insinuated that he was not happy with his play in the last game, but also seems to reveal a deeper belief that he is being singled out:
You know, I think it’s an easy life when you can blame one guy…’it’s a bad goalie, it’s the goalie’s mistake.’ It’s easy to find a scapegoat. You point to one guy and say we’re always losing because we have a bad goalie, but I think it’s the wrong philosophy. I know I was frustrated in my game today and I know I have to be better and I will continue to work on this, but….I will try to find peace in my soul to play in this city.
Ever since the days of Ron Hextall came to an end in Philadelphia, Flyers fans have never had a legitimate star goaltender to help them win a Stanley Cup. Bryzgalov was supposed to be that star and despite the lackluster season, he should settle down and find "peace in his soul" to play in Philadelphia. Still, one has to wonder if the 31-year-old netminder can handle the pressure of a big market franchise. As for his thoughts on Flyers fans, Bryzgalov has been vocal about what they think of him.
When the Flyers went to Winnipeg last month, Jets fans mocked Bryzgalov all night by chanting "Ilya! Ilya!" but the goaltender loved the support. “I never heard that before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it’s a great present.”
But when asked about the encouragement he receives from his own fans, "No,” Bryzgalov replied. “Here there is cheering. In Philly, they boo me.” Following that playful jab, reports from the Flyers Wives Carnival charity event stated that Bryzgalov actually told a Flyers fan that he and the city of Philadelphia care too much.
Regardless of whether his "care too much" statement was real or not, there exists a clear rift between Bryzgalov and many Flyers fans. Philadelphia sports fans are historically hard to please but they may have a strong case against their new 51-million-dollar man.
As Bryzgalov's play improves, so too shall the opinions of Flyers fans, but his time may be running out.