AFTER ILYA Bryzgalov signed a tryout agreement in October with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers in attempt to make his way back to the NHL, he took his new teammates out to breakfast.
When the bill arrived, Bryzgalov picked up the tab.
"Don't worry, guys," Bryzgalov reportedly said. "This is courtesy of the Flyers."
The Flyers will have an opportunity to pay him back tonight at Rexall Place in Edmonton, where he will face his former team for the first time since his expensive and embarrassing buyout last June. The Oilers announced yesterday Bryzgalov will start in net.
"It's 'Bryz,' so it's going to be a fun game, for sure," Claude Giroux said.
Bryzgalov, 33, signed with the Oilers on Nov. 8 after 28 other teams passed on him. He said tonight will be like any other game.
"It's just another game of hockey," Bryzgalov told reporters yesterday in Calgary. "I'm not going to look forward. Right now, I'm just focused on Calgary. Tomorrow is going to be a new day."
Much of the same sentiment was echoed in the Flyers' locker room yesterday after their upbeat practice before boarding a charter flight to the Great White North. Scott Hartnell said tonight would be no different from facing Danny Briere or Jeff Carter or Mike Richards.
"I like Bryz," Hartnell said. "He was a goofy guy. I think you needed to know how to take his personality."
Off the record, though, there was chatter about a little "extra" motivation to face Bryzgalov, one of the most polarizing forces in the Flyers' dressing room in recent memory.
"Probably," one Flyer said with a smile when asked whether there would be a record amount of money "on the board." Before each game, players volunteer to pledge money toward the team's kitty that is payable only with a win. Usually, a player throws "money on the board" when playing against a former team, a rival, or in his hometown.
The money, usually along with "kangaroo court" fines, is dispensed by team leadership for things such as team meals, team outings and gifts and tips for team staff.
This feature of NHL life was visible recently in HBO's "24/7" series when Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf offered $1,000 for a win while he was out of the lineup serving a suspension.
Suffice to say, some of the former teammates Bryzgalov rubbed the wrong way will pony up for a victory tonight.
"There's a lot of words to describe Bryzgalov," Giroux said. "He's a smart goalie. Maybe a little too smart, sometimes. He was telling a lot of stories that you guys [the media] don't even know about."
The Flyers are paying him $1,642,857.00 this season - and every season through 2026-27 - to play somewhere else. Hartnell said it would be "better for 'Hockey Night in Canada' " if Bryzgalov plays.
"It will give everyone something to talk about," Hartnell said. "The main thing for us is getting the two points and making this a great road trip."
With a little extra fire, today's game could go two drastically different directions. Edmonton has whooped top teams such as Colorado, 8-2, this season and also has been blown out a handful of times. The Oilers have the fewest wins in the NHL since 2009 - only 125 in 321 games.
"Our team needs to not worry about him and who is in net," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "They need to worry about their game and how they need to play tomorrow night and how they need to get two points. That's it. And if they don't do that, we're not going to be successful. You need to think properly and get your head right before the game."
The Flyers haven't won in Edmonton (0-3-1) since March 19, 2001. More than Bryzgalov, tonight is the start of perhaps their most important road trip of the season - a six-game slog that will cover a seasonlong 8,701 miles. The Flyers have won nine in a row at home but have lost five straight on the road.
"That's one thing we can do, is think of the Edmonton Oilers as not having a great season and it's going to be an easy game," Giroux said. "Last game they played, they won 6-1. They're an offensive-minded team and if we're not ready to play, they're going to score a lot of goals."
The Flyers face former teammates all the time - but hardly ever a goaltender on whom they not only can inflict a little pain, but also help their own cause.
"I think we may get amped up a little more, but guys have played former teammates and friends quite a bit before," Brayden Schenn said. "It's obviously different as a former goalie. You get to shoot on him and try to score goals on him. I think we're going to be excited no matter what. We know that we need to keep climbing in the standings."
Adam Hall missed yesterday's practice with an illness, but did make the trip to Edmonton . . . Steve Downie (upper-body) injury is expected to return today after a stint on the injury list . . . If Downie returns and Hall is out, expect Chris VandeVelde to center the fourth line. Craig Berube said he did not want to tinker with what's worked as of late.
"If we lay an egg, we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot. We had a lot of home games the first month and got off to a poor start, but we've gotten back to where we want to at this point. But, if we let that slide on this road trip, we're going to be scratching ourselves in April, looking back and wondering what went wrong. And we can look at this trip and say it's the turning point." - Flyers forward Scott Hartnell on the team's longest road trip of the season in terms of distance. The Flyers go to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Colorado and Phoenix before returning home for a day and heading to New Jersey.