ILYA BRYZGALOV'S agent has been on a media frenzy this week. Spreading his gospel far and wide, Ritch Winter took to the airwaves of Calgary yesterday morning to push his agenda.
I'm not buying any of it.
Winter spoke to Sportsnet 960 radio in Alberta and again reiterated that Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren told him this week he has no plans to exercise a compliance buyout on his client next week.
This time around, he included a key component of the conversation he forgot to share when he spoke with the Daily News on Tuesday:
"Paul has also been candid enough to say, 'Never say never. I don't know what I'm going to be offered at some point, so I'm not going to guarantee you anything, except that I will give you plenty of warning if I do so,' " Winter told Sportsnet radio.
That's a big caveat to leave out. He intimated to me Tuesday that Holmgren spoke in absolutes.
And that wasn't even the most interesting part of his interview, which came only days before the Flyers must decide whether to pay Bryzgalov $23 million over the next 14 years to not play for the team. Buyouts may be handed out as soon as 48 hours after the Stanley Cup finals conclude.
Winter said that Bryzgalov is "up for the challenge" to try to turn things around with the Flyers, despite his clear unhappiness with his situation at the end of the season.
"It's a very tough, tough situation, because the media, for whatever reason, tends to focus on goaltending," Winter said. "He'd rather stay in Philadelphia, he'd rather work through this, he'd rather make Philadelphia's goaltending a strength instead of a weakness.
"The easy route out is to make noise like you don't like it there, like you don't want to stay there, like you're going to run away from [Philadelphia media], who constantly attack you with no fact or basis.
"At the end of the day, he would rather look face-first into that storm and face the challenge and make the changes necessary for the goaltending to be part of the success Philadelphia has, rather than run away from it. Ilya Bryzgalov is a lot of things, but he's not afraid of a challenge."
Well, Bryzgalov has made noises that he does not like it in Philadelphia. Some Flyers said Bryzgalov bragged to teammates he might get bought out after the season.
"It's OK, guys," Bryzgalov said, according to a teammate, speaking on a condition of anonymity. "I will get bought out. I will get paid for this deal and I will get paid double to play for a new team somewhere else."
He chided the media during a news conference on the day the Flyers' cleaned out their lockers, asking for accountability and wondering, "What good have you done for this city?"
He trashed Philadelphia, saying he goes there only to "play and exercise."
"I do not really like that sort of town," Bryzgalov told Russian news website Championat on May 15. "Me and New York do not like. A big, bustling city with a grim gateways. Philadelphia is the same . . . Too many do not work, live on welfare and get food stamps for. They just do not want to work."
In that same interview, he said he saw "logic" in the policies of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who ordered the execution of tens of millions of people.
"He knew what he was doing," Bryzgalov said, as translated by a Russian journalist for Yahoo Sports. "He is described as a 'bloody tyrant.' But at the time it couldn't be any other way. Yes, there were innocent people who were victims of repressions . . . But it happens."
Talk about asking for a ticket out of town.
Winter went on to say on the radio that Bryzgalov's public persona is based on "a kind of perception that does not back up with reality."
"I think he struggles at times because, when your second language is English and you're dealing with a sports media that isn't very well-schooled in Russian studies, what comes out and what comes across is unique and different," Winter said. "He is one of the most intelligent athletes I've ever met. He's an avid fan of American history and Russian studies, and he can quote verbatim things that most professors would have a hard time remembering.
"It'd be interesting to see if the major league in the world was Russian, and the majority of the best players were American or Canadian, how a guy like Tim Thomas might be interepreted in Moscow if he was trying to wax poetic about his political philosophy."
Thomas, an American, was appropriately mocked for not attending his team's Stanley Cup celebration at the White House ion 2011 because he disagreed with President Obama's views. And reporters still think he is strange for abruptly walking away from the game, leaving $3 million on the table so he could live in seclusion in Colorado.
Winter went on to question the way the Flyers handle goaltending, citing Sergei Bobrovsky's move from being "moderately successful" in Philadelphia to winning a Vezina Trophy in Columbus.
"I think you have to start asking yourself, 'What's wrong with the Philadelphia environment?' " Winter said. "There's lots of issues that we've discussed. I won't go public with the details of the discussions I've had with Paul Holmgren, but there are issues with the way they focus on goaltenders and the way they manage that position.
"It's the way they approach goaltending. The goalies always see the puck in Phoenix. In Philadelphia, goalies aren't always seeing the puck, because guys are blocking shots, they're in positions where they should probably be clearing out lanes. Those are the things that need to be looked at."
Winter said he did not force Bryzgalov to sign his 9-year, $51 million deal with the Flyers in 2011, but acknowledged that there "wasn't any other opportunity." The Flyers, one of the few teams looking for a starter at the time, outbid themselves for his services. And now they are paying the price.
"When you get only one offer on July 1, it becomes pretty attractive, right?" Winter asked.
Bryzgalov is one of the most intelligent athletes I've ever covered. Winter isn't lying, but isn't stupid, either.
With this humongous decision for the Flyers looming in days, Winter is pushing hard. He wants to make it seem as if Bryzgalov is the good guy through all of this and wants to stay. He wants to paint Holmgren as a liar. And maybe he wants his client to be freed from this circus by going public with it all.
Why else would a veteran agent, who once took a lengthy hiatus from interviews with the media because he said "there was no benefit," suddenly decide to speak?
"Him getting bought out would be the most rewarding financial opportunity he could pursue," Winter said. "He would get almost all of the money he would be contracted to receive and he would get another deal that would considerably surpass the difference."
Instead, Winter said Philadelphia is the best opportunity for Bryzgalov.
"Because if he seizes the opportunity available to him and plays like I know he's capable, behind a solid defense that's capable of supporting him, he will have created the best legacy," Winter said. "He will not have run from a challenge. It's the best opportunity, because it's the biggest challenge."
Just as in 2011, it's the best opportunity for Bryzgalov because it's the only opportunity. No NHL team will take a flier on a mediocre, expensive goaltender with a big mouth and a bad reputation.