I was a bit surprised when the phone rang about 25 minutes ago and Sergei Brylin was on the other end when I picked up. It's been talked about for a while, but Brylin confirmed that he agreed to a three-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the Russian Continental League, "10 days ago."
"It's not something I thought I was going to do, but they came up with a good offer for me and I'm pretty happy with it," Brylin said. "It's a good change. It's something that will shake things up for a little bit. I was fortunate to play for the Devils for my entire career and it's probably time to change."
Brylin is in New Jersey for a couple of days to pack up his belongings before heading back to Russia to get ready for the season, which starts much earlier there. He finally revealed what happened in his meeting with Lou Lamoriello on June 23 in New Jersey.
The sides met to discuss the $1.52 million option year on his contract. Brylin was looking for a two-year contract instead. When Lamoriello wouldn't budge on that, Brylin asked him not to pick up the option because he felt his role with the team would keep him from getting a new contract after next season.
"I got a feeling that I wasn't part of the future plans for the Devils and I told Lou that if I play another year like I did last year, then it will be tough for me to find a team next year to get a job," Brylin said. ""We kind of agreed and he agreed not to extend my contract."
After being utilized in many roles in previous seasons with the Devils, Brylin was limited mostly to fourth-line and penalty-killing duty last season and saw his ice time cut to 13:32 game. His totals of six goals and 16 points were his lowest for a full NHL season.
"I didn't play the way I played before," Brylin said. "I knew that if I played another year like this, it was going to be pretty much over for me, so I knew it was the right thing for me to go and find another team."
Brylin still wasn't sure that Lamoriello wouldn't pick up the option until July 1. He said that initially his contract only included a player option for 2008-09, but the NHL rejected the contract, so the team option was added.
He admitted he's disappointed how his 13-season Devils' career ended.
"It's not that way I wanted to leave this team," he said. "I played my entire career here and this team means a lot to me and I thought I would leave a different way."
Brylin said "a few" NHL teams called after he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"But the offer I got from St. Petersburg was the best offer of all," he said.
Brylin said former Devil Igor Larionov, who was recently named SKA St. Petersburg's director of hockey operations, was instrumental in recruiting him. "We talked on the phone a few times before I made my decision," he said. Playing for head coach Barry Smith, a former Red Wings assistant, also was a factor.
"St. Petersburg was more interested in me than any other team," he said. "It's going to be interesting to go back to where I started with my roots and the new league and new rules and the things they wanted to change. Hopefully, that league is going to get better and better."
Brylin, 34, finished his Devils' career with 129 goals, 179 assists and 308 points in 765 games. He played in the Devils' last 328 regular season games, which is the second-longest consecutive-games streak in team history.
Brylin is one of five players to play on all three of the Devils' three Stanley Cup championship teams -- Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur are the other four. Brylin's departure leaves Brodeur as the only one still playing for the team.
"The three Cups are special and there were a lot of great moments over the years," said Brylin, who as just a 21-year-old rookie when he came up from the minors to help the Devils win their first championship. "The first Cup we won in 1995 was probably the most amazing one because I was a young kid who came from Russia and played in Albany most of the year because of the lockout and definitely winning the Stanley Cup was something special for me."
Brylin hasn't ruled out returning to the NHL someday, though he knows it's probably unlikely because he'll be 37 when his contract expires.
"Who knows?" he said. "I never thought I would be going back to Russia and I am, so I don't know for sure. But I think it's going to be tough to find a team when you're 37."
He's not thinking about coming back and rejoining the Devils someday after his playing career is over, though.
"I don't know. We'll see," he said. "All of my thoughts are about my new team and my family. We have to make a lot of decisions about where we're going to live and the schools (for his two children). I never thought about that. Let's see what's going to happen in the next three years and we'll go from there."