Is it okay to boo Ilya Bryzgalov's poor play? You likely think it's fine. I certainly think it's fine. But not everybody agrees.
There was a pretty interesting Twitter debate on the subject Monday evening between Kyle Scott of Crossing Broad and Randy J. Miller of the Camden County Courier-Post. The whole back-and-forth was pretty interesting, but for our purposes here, we'll focus on the Bryz discussion.
Miller believes that fans should stop booing Ilya Bryzgalov. The goalie is not the kind of person that thrives off of boos and negative feedback, and by booing him we actually might be hurting him. The argument is that, as fans, we should want to do whatever we can to support the guy, and if boos aren't going to help him, we should stop. He's a $51 million investment -- we shouldn't be booing him if it's not beneficial to him.
(Yes, Randy. We can see your Tweets even though you blocked us on Twitter.)
It's a fair argument. Booing him isn't going to do any good, so we shouldn't do it. But anybody who's ever stepped foot in Philadelphia -- or any major sports city in this country, for that matter -- knows that it will never happen. It's an unrealistic proposition. That was the counter-argument.
This gets long, and it devolves into name-calling a bit, but it's an interesting debate. Worth reading all the way through.
We've published a lengthy aside regarding the two participants in this debate and certain media issues, which you can read if interested. We won't clog up this story with that stuff, although it does frame our bias if that concerns you at all. Just read on if you're only interested in the Bryzgalov debate.
The argument there wound up circling around the idea that a) Bryzgalov shouldn't be booed because it won't help him, but that'll never happen in Philadelphia, and b) this wouldn't happen in any other city. He wouldn't be booed in Pittsburgh or DC or NYC or Chicago or Boston or Montreal (haha) or Toronto.
"Not like Philly. Not even close," Randy J. Miller said at one point. Kyle Scott argued that yes, he would be booed in those cities. Miller cited personal experience from traveling around covering games in different cities, Scott cited personal experience attending games as a fan in different cities. They did not come to an agreement.
I figured I'd try to solve the debate. I asked fellow SB Nation writers from around the league this exact question: "If Ilya Bryzgalov played for your team, would your fans boo him?" These people have attended games in their home rinks far more than any writer from Philadelphia ever has. Some of them attend every single game, both in the press box and in the stands. All are familiar with their teams and the fans that follow them.
Here were the responses I received.
Unquestionably, and they'd boo him even harder if the defensive unit that they should be booing was at least equally as much to blame for the team's defensive struggles on the whole.
Definitely... [Cristobal] Huet got boo'd pretty bad when he was stinking up the joint. This city has a problem with highly paid athletes even remotely under performing. [Brian] Campbell caught a lot of flak too.
Fleury was getting booed last season when he started off slowly. Some of the crowd was turning on him in the arena, lot of angry callers to sports talk radio, angry comments on Pensburgh, etc.
Absolutely. They would especially boo if the team had traded away two fan favorites (say, for instance, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan) to clear space for his contract. That, and some of his quotes during and after the Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 would earn him some boos. Even Henrik Lundqvist gets a mock cheer every now and again from the fans (albeit very, very rarely). If [Bryzgalov] was in a Rangers uniform the boos would be pretty relentless.
Yes. Even if it's just a segment of Isles fans, the guy would hear boos. [Rick] DiPietro even had some boos during Opening Night pre-game player introductions this season, something even some of his biggest critics thought was poor in a "time and place for everything" kind of way.
Well, I think we've solved that debate once and for all. Every answer, a resounding yes.
Back to J.P., who also made this point:
Worth noting, too, is that when you boo a guy like that, you're not only booing him but tacitly booing the decisionmaker(s) who thought it'd be a good idea to commit to the guy in the way that they did.
That's a whole 'nother layer of this debate that hasn't even been touched. Miller admitted that the boos for Ilya Bryzgalov are fair. He's not saying they aren't, but he is saying that we shouldn't boo him because it's not going to help. I still think that's a fair point, but that it's completely unrealistic for any number of reasons.
Even taking that into consideration, however, here's why I'd still boo Ilya Bryzgalov today: The contract.
The point isn't that we dislike Bryzgalov or anything, or even that all the team's struggles over the last month have been on Bryz. They haven't been. The defense has been bad, the PK has been bad, the team on the whole has been average-at-best, Sergei Bobrovsky has been bad. It's not all on Bryzgalov, but he's a big piece of the puzzle -- and most importantly, the most expensive piece of it.
Of course we want him to play better hockey, but in booing his poor play, it's letting him know that we're unhappy in the only way we know how to let that be known. And it's letting it be known that hey, that contract sucks, Paul and Ed. You shouldn't have signed it.
He was brought in on a huge contract and crowned as the man who would stop all of those Philadelphia goaltender jokes. The expectations were that he would be a top goaltender, and you'd better believe he'll get booed when he misses those expectations this badly, no matter what city he plays in.