Ilya Bryzgalov has been inconsistent between the pipes for the Flyers early this season. While his play has been shaky at times, his interaction with the media has regularly been nothing short of entertaining. That appears to be coming to an end -- at least partially, and hopefully only temporarily.
In an unexpected and unpopular media relations move, the Flyers announced that their big-dollar off-season goalie acquisition "will no longer talk to the media except in postgame situations in which he plays."
From CSN's story, "[Flyers goalie coach Jeff] Reese said more than once that he felt Bryzgalov was “distracted” by [a] number of things, among them, his daily interactions with the media." It's safe to say the Philly media is quite different than that in Phoenix. The Flyers dressing room is mobbed with throngs of reporters, bloggers, cameramen and people milling about following every game. While their numbers are smaller on off days in Voorhees, there is a constant media presence surrounding the team and its players. Most of the time, the attention benefits the team, with more coverage usually translating to more interest among the public. But, at least for now and with this player, it seems the Flyers are willing to take that risk and silence their most interesting interview.
For however long this lasts -- a week, a month, a season, nine years -- we'll miss the frequency of hilarious quotes from the Russian. But we also see the Flyers side in this. First, it's been indicated that Bryzgalov is the one who wants to go rogue. We have no idea the degree to which this is true, versus the Flyers being the driving force. But, if Bryzgalov or his coach thought interacting with the media was affecting his play -- which hasn't been great so far -- then it's hard to fault the them for acting on it.
What happens on the ice trumps everything else, right?
Is the media "barrage" an excuse? Possibly. But Bryz's mind clearly wasn't in the right place, and it's his coach's job to get it there.
Of course, it could also backfire, with the loquacious Russian missing the spotlight he doesn't seem to mind. And, at least in the immediate aftermath, there's more media attention on Bryzgalov than ever, with the focus right now being his newly limited access. Is it better to make headlines at Puck Daddy because you're "lost in the woods" or because you're being handled with kid gloves?
There wasn't much chance the Flyers scribes, a vocal group, were going to let this just happen without much fanfare. Their reaction to Bryzgalov's very limited availability is predictably upset. Bryz's colorful quotes make their job a whole lot easier, so without them, they'll have to dig a little deeper and find interesting things from the mouths of other Flyers players. If you've seen Postgame Live much, there often isn't a whole lot there. Getting a non-generic quote from an athlete usually isn't an easy task, but Bryzgalov is soundbite gold, with his accent adding flavor to an already entertaining routine.
But when you do get a perfect quote, it can be used as the focal point of a story. There's often danger in that, however, as Gus Haynes from the Wire once put it, the best stories focus little on what the subjects themselves have to say, but are based rather on observations made by the author.
Flyers beat writer Randy Miller was among the most vocal about sharing his displeasure with the new Bryzgalov availability, noting that he believes there may be some NHL rule stating every player must be made available every day. Puck Daddy's coverage points out that Sam Carchidi has filed a complaint with the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
As someone who has spent plenty of time in a few Philadelphia sports teams' locker rooms in recent years, my take is that if players don't want to talk to the media, they won't, even if they are "available." And, I don't believe they should be forced to. Mike Richards was clearly a guy who wanted to be captain on the ice and probably in the locker room, but he had no desire whatsoever to talk to the local media, and the result was a series of bitter exchanges over everything from partying to inconsistent play.
If they're forced to talk, most players will only give generic lines you've heard a thousands times already. Bryzgalov was an exception to that, but according to the team, he seems to want and/or need some time out of the spotlight when he's not on the ice. Or, if you don't believe it's coming from Bryz, the team wants it for him.
My question to you, the fans, is do you care that your goalie may talk less (possibly a lot less)? Is that a big deal to you? Or is your only concern how he performs on the ice?