Thoughts on Bobrovsky in Columbus
On Friday afternoon, the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Sergei Bobrovsky from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for three draft picks. The move, for the time being, gives the Central Division “cellar dwellers” a potential tandem of he and Steve Mason heading into next season.
With one of the three picks the Flyers received from Columbus — the 45th overall pick in this weekend’s draft — GM Paul Holmgren and his crew selected NAHL standout Anthony Stolarz. That’s a pretty good swap for Philly if you ask me, and they still have two more picks to work with.
This past season, Bobrovsky posted a 14-10-2 record with a 3.02 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. He was 11-5-0 with a 2.55 GAA and .914 SV% on the road, but just 3-5-2 with a 3.75 GAA and .875 SV% at home.
His best stretch of hockey came back in December; he went 3-0-0 in five appearances and posted a .935 SV% by stopping 101 of 108 total shots. That little run, combined with the abysmal play of Ilya Bryzgalov during the taping and airing of HBO’s 24/7, helped Bobrovsky earn the surprise start in the 2012 Winter Classic.
Although he suffered a loss against the Rangers in the big game (30 saves on 33 shots), he followed it up with what I consider to be the best two games of his NHL career. He stopped 35 of 36 shots in a win in Carolina on Jan. 10, and then he stopped 33 of 35 shots on Jan. 12 against the Islanders.
On both nights, he was sharp, spongy and super cerebral. From start to finish, everything he did just screamed “massive improvements” with his overall game.
Unfortunately, those two outings were the climax of his sophomore season, as he earned just four more wins in the entire second half. But it wasn’t all a direct result of his own lack of preparation; playing behind Bryzgalov can be a death warrant.
Now that I’ve had two seasons to track and evaluate Bobrovsky’s development since he signed a pricey three-year entry-level contract, when I break down this acquisition, I find myself pondering two different sides of the equation.
On one side, I see a move that doesn’t make much sense at all. As I recently said in an article on The Cannon, I don’t think Bobrovsky is ready for a starting role on a team like Columbus:
“In my opinion, Bobrovsky needs a really heavy workload in the AHL next season. He’s not ready to take on the role of a full-blown NHL starter, especially on a team like Columbus that really needs steady and experienced goaltending. It’s a really tough transition from Russia to NHL, especially when the goalie is smaller, and not given ample time to play and get comfortable on the smaller ice surface. Bob thrives because of his excellent footwork, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for a bigger role.”
Obviously the Blue Jackets hope Bobrovsky evolves into a starter sooner rather than later, but to me, that seems like a stretch. I just think he still has a lot to learn about playing consistently in the NHL.
Furthermore, he’s a 6-foot-2 goalie that plays like he’s 6-foot-0. He looks so small for his size sometimes, he over-condenses, and that’s not a luxury he can afford moving forward. He has the right mindset and the work ethic to be a starter, but technically speaking, I think he still has a long way to go.
In terms of improvements, he just needs to work on playing bigger (space management) and managing plays behind his net. That’s a huge area of concern for me, because once he starts to chase a play, he over-reacts and starts swimming. I see that head start turning side to side, and I can sense the uncertainty. He needs to display more body control in tight, and obviously he needs to work on rebound control and covering space.
I think he seals the ice really well with his legs, but from the waist up, he struggles.
Fortunately, he has terrific natural athleticism, quickness, reflexes and foot speed. That means I do think he has the potential to grow into a pretty formidable NHL starter someday…but it might take a few years, and even then, that still doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen.
I look at the transition he’ll have to make between now and October, and it’s similar to what Anders Lindback has to do with Tampa Bay. Bobrovsky has to switch conferences, adjust to a team with less cohesion on the blueline (although Jack Johnson and the newly-drafted Ryan Murray really helps), and although Sergei had a real strong rookie season, he still hasn’t played a ton of games in the NHL.
I also want to point out how tough it can be for one goalie to play consistently when the other goalie is wildly inconsistent. If Mason continues to struggle early next season, it could lend a hand to Bobrovsky displaying some inconsistency as well (just like he was behind Bryzgalov). I’ll point out two tandem examples, both of which took place in Tampa Bay: the Dan Ellis-Mike Smith tandem and the Dwayne Roloson-Mathieu Garon tandem.
I’m also somewhat perplexed by Scott Howson’s quotes in this article posted on the Columbus Dispatch. To me, it seems as if Howson isn’t too confident in Bobrovsky being the main solution to his goaltending dilemma. In that regard, I have to think he’s still seeking another NHL-caliber goaltender, and that will force someone (Mason, Bob, or the new guy) to end up in Springfield.
To make this situation even more intriguing, Howson drafted both Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo (to kick off the second and third rounds, respectively) during the 2012 NHL Draft. Obviously those are picks to improve the future in goal for his club, but it still says a lot about what Columbus felt was their biggest weakness. It does not speak on what they feel like Bobrovsky could eventually become.
On the other side of this equation, I see a positive situation where two goalies are now forced to earn their starts.
Mason knows that his job in Columbus has been on paper-thin ice for months; now Bobrovsky is in the mix, and the team just added two elite prospects at the NHL Draft. Bobrovsky has always carried a strong work ethic on his shoulders, but knows that he’ll have to earn his starts in Columbus as well.
So both guys will have to fire up the blades and the intensity in order to try and win the starting role, and therefore I actually like what this tandem could do if they both compete during each and every practice. It will spill over into games, and it will drive up the competitiveness with everyone on the team.
No matter what happens, if those two guys begin the season in Columbus, someone has to push through a wall and rise up. Someone has to get better, someone has to take their game to the next level. Otherwise they both fail, and changes will be made.
Ultimately, I think too many things still need to go right for this tandem to truly work (make the playoffs). The defense needs to be more cohesive than ever before. They’ll have to find a way to score goals without Rick Nash. They’ll need better coaching, more consistency, and strong special teams in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.
I also know that NHL teams want backups that are low-maintenance and reliable. They need to just show up, work hard, stay quiet, and do what needs to be done in order to be that consummate pro. I’m not sure Mason has the maturity to fill that role, and so if Bobrovsky does take over as the starter, I wonder about Mason’s fit in this hypothetical.
I could keep going, but I think you get the idea; I have way more questions than answers.
At the end of the day, the optics of this deal might lead many to believe Howson may have scrambled a bit. The market for goalies is shrinking with the likes of Curtis Sanford and Josh Harding and Tomas Vokoun finding homes before July 1, and with the bigger names like Lindback now out of the picture, he can’t get caught with a dial tone on the other end of his phone when free agency begins.
There’s no way of knowing for sure where the intentions lie here. That’s one of the great struggles I face as being an independent scout. But no matter which way I look at this acquisition, I am left with the same line of thought.
I don’t think it will pan out.
I don’t think Bobrovsky is quite ready for this type of situation on this type of team, and I don’t think Columbus is satisfied with the goalies they have right now. But let’s see what happens next week, and let’s see if Bobrovsky can prove me wrong! For the sake of his future, I hope he does, because he’s a hard worker and a competitor.
Whether I think they’re skilled enough or not, those are the type of guys I always want to see succeed, because I know they’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.