Russian to judgment

Ilya Bryzgalov didn't enjoy visiting Winnipeg during his days in the AHL. (Getty...

Ilya Bryzgalov didn't enjoy visiting Winnipeg during his days in the AHL. (Getty Images/AFP/Christian Petersen)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:51 PM ET

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Winnipeg isn't even back in the NHL, yet, but it already has a potential free agent problem.

Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, a soon-to-be free agent who was probably the team's most valuable player the last two seasons, says he'd rather go back to Russia than play in Winnipeg.

"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said after the Coyotes lost to Detroit, Wednesday night. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family."

The 30-year-old Russian's knowledge of Winnipeg comes from a visit or two when he was with Cincinnati in the AHL.

"I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold," Bryzgalov said. "I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."

And if he's going to put up with that, he'd rather be back home.

So if the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, Bryzgalov says chances are he wouldn't listen to a contract offer from the new owners.

"Probably not. I better go to somewhere in Russia, KHL, to be honest. Because KHL is Russian people, it's family, friends. Even as a cold place, I can speak to people in Russian language."

A six-year NHL vet who began his career in Anaheim, Bryzgalov has been the backbone of a blue-collar Coyotes team that made the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

He was a second-team NHL all-star a year ago, when he posted a 42-20-6 record and 2.29 goals against average.

This season he was 36-20-10, with a 2.48 GAA.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan Wednesday called him the league's most valuable player.

But Bryzgalov had a terrible first-round playoff series against the Red Wings, allowing 17 goals in the four-game sweep, including Wednesday's winner, a softie from the corner by Detroit's Danny Cleary that broke a 3-3 tie late in the third period.

"Goalies have it two ways: to be a hero, to be a goat," Bryzgalov said. "I'm a goat."

He was also in a difficult situation this season, unable to negotiate a new contract because the Coyotes didn't have a real owner.

"I didn't care about the contract the whole year long," he said. "I not even put it in my mind. I can find a job. It's tough to live with unknown situation. But nothing can do.

"I hope team's going to stay. It's such a nice area, and such nice place to play hockey."


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