The headline probably gives away the answer to the question "Who is the greatest number 30 in Coyote franchise history?" not that this was a particularly close competition to begin with. Twelve men have worn the number 30 in Coyote history and 11 of them were goalies, with the majority of those being of the backup variety (the only non-goalie to wear number 30 was right winger Ed Ronan, he of 17 games played for Winnipeg with 0 points). One notable exception to that rule is Daniel Berthiume, who had a decent year as the starter in 87-88 going 22-19-7 while leading the Jets to the playoffs only to get smashed by Edmonton in the first round. That leaves us with the only true starting goalie to wear the number 30 and the best to do so as a Coyote, Ilya Bryzgalov.
One of the most polarizing characters in hockey, and arguably all of professional sports, Bryz was a second round pick of Anaheim's in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Bryz played over parts of five seasons with the Ducks before they put him on waivers on November 17th, 2007. This would prove to be a pivotal moment in Coyote history as the Desert Dogs would claim him that day. At the time, the Coyotes goaltending situation was unstable to say the least, manned by Mikael Tellqvist, Alex Auld and David Aebischer. The Coyotes and then head coach Wayne Gretzky had watched a 7-7 start to the season start to spiral away after losing three straight games to San Jose and immediately turned to Bryzgalov that same night, November 17, 2007 for a game against the Los Angeles Kings. Bryz would deliver, stopping all 28 shots he faced that night in shutting out the Kings 1-0 and outdueling future Coyote Jason Labarbera. Bryzgalov would start 55 of the Coyotes final 65 that season, going 26-22-5 while posting a 2.43 GAA with a .921 SV%. The following season, Bryz would struggle a little, playing in 65 games for the Yotes going 26-31-6 (the 31 losses were tied with Marty Turco of Dallas for most in the league) with a 2.98 GAA and .906 SV%. The summer of '09 would come with a ton of turmoil off the ice for the franchise, including the resignation of Wayne Gretzky as head coach. But with that turmoil came a revelation both for the franchise and for Bryzgalov. On September 24, 2009 the Coyotes hired Dave Tippett to be their head coach.
With Tippett at the helm, the Coyotes would embark on a franchise altering season, led in large part by some Herculean goaltending provided by Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz started in 69 games going 42-20-6, posting numbers that would make him an All-Star for the first time in his career, including a 2.29 GAA and .920 SV% along with 8 shutouts. His 42 wins were third best in the NHL, he was sixth in GAA and ninth in SV% and his 8 shutouts were second best, only behind Martin Broduer with 9. He finished second in the Vezina Trophy balloting that season as well. The Coyotes would finish the season with a (still) franchise best 50 wins and 107 points, finishing behind the Sharks in the Pacific and earning the 4th seed in the playoffs. Their reward was the two time repeating Cup finalist Detroit Red Wings. In what was a classic series, the Coyotes and Wings would go toe-to-toe for six brutal games, culminating in a winner take all game 7 at Jobing.com Arena. Game 7 would prove to be the first chink in the previously spotless armor of Bryz's time in the Valley. Detroit would clobber the Yotes 6-1, scoring 4 goals in the 2nd period, including a backbreaker by Brad Stuart with 5 seconds left.
The Coyotes would have another successful season in 10-11, with Bryzgalov once again acting as a workhorse, appearing in 68 games, going 36-20-10 and posting a 2.48 GAA and .921 SV% while shutting out the opponents 7 times. The Coyotes would end the season with 99 points, good enough for the 6th seed in the west, earning them a rematch with Detroit. However, a report surfaced before the playoffs begun that the Coyotes ownership issues would have the team relocating to Winnipeg after the season ended. Rumors had swirled for the past 2 years, but this report seemed to be the first confirmation of the worst and some have speculated that it affected the locker room and one player in particular in the series against Detroit. The Red Wings decimated the Coyotes in a 4 game sweep by scores of 4-2, 4-3, 4-2, and 6-3. Bryzgalov was awful in the 4 games losing them all and posting a stomach churningly bad GAA of 4.36 and SV% of .879. The report would prove to be false, as instead Atlanta moved to Winnipeg but the damage had been done. Fairly or not, Bryzgalov had now earned a reputation of crumbling under pressure and being somewhat mentally fragile. With his contract expiring on July 1 of 2011, GM Don Maloney would trade Bryz's negotiating rights to Philadelphia for Matt Clackson and Philly's 3rd round pick in the upcoming draft on June 7th. In total, Bryzgalov played 257 games as a member of the Coyotes, going 130-93-27 while posting 21 shutouts with a 2.54 GAA and a .917 SV%.
Ilya Bryzgalov is a true enigma, earning equal parts scorn, praise and derision from hockey fans the world over. He's as intriguing a personality as exists in sports today, but there are questions about his "mental toughness" and "clutchness" as his playoff record is far from impressive. As Coyote fans, we should be gracious to have had Bryzgalov as a part of our franchise. His stellar regular season play helped establish the Coyotes as a perennial playoff contender and were he not here in 09-10, who knows, the Coyotes may not be here now. So thank you Ilya, for being the greatest sweater number 30 in Coyote franchise history, and giving the world your "Humongous Big" character.