Inside the Flyers: Flyers castoff Bobrovsky a finalist for best goalie

Sergei Bobrovsky, now with Columbus, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, along with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and San Jose's Antti Niemi. Inquirer, file
Sergei Bobrovsky, now with Columbus, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, along with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and San Jose's Antti Niemi. Inquirer, file
Posted: May 10, 2013

Two years ago, the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov and figured they had ended their l-o-o-o-o-n-g search for a shutdown goaltender.

As it turns out, they already had an elite Russian goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky.

They just didn't realize it.

Bobrovsky, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, was named Wednesday as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's top goaltender. The Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and San Jose's Antti Niemi were the other finalists in voting by NHL general managers. The winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of the three contenders, Bobrovsky had the best season, and he nearly carried the lowly Blue Jackets into the playoffs.

So how did a Flyers franchise that, in its history, has had just three high-quality goalies - Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh, and Ron Hextall - allow Bobrovsky to slip away?

Basically, a lack of patience.

It started with coach Peter Laviolette and spread to club chairman Ed Snider and, ultimately, to general manager Paul Holmgren.

Flashback: Bobrovsky, then 22, had a terrific rookie year with the Flyers in the 2010-11 season. He went 28-13-8 and compiled a 2.59 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. At the time, Parent said it had been a long time since he had seen a goalie with such post-to-post quickness.

And then the playoffs rolled around, and Bobrovsky stumbled. And Laviolette became Captain Hook, starting Bobrovsky in just three of 11 playoff games, including a 1-0 loss to Buffalo.

In those 11 contests, Laviolette made seven in-game goalie switches, tying a dubious NHL playoff record.

Embarrassed by the goalie carousel - and still hurting from Michael Leighton's meltdown in the winnable 2010 Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks - Snider vowed to do something.

"We are never going to go through the goalie issues we've gone through in the last couple of years," he said at the time.

Holmgren signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal that summer. That, in effect, pushed Bobrovsky into a backup role. In the 2011-12 season, he struggled with the demotion and lost the rhythm and confidence he had developed as a rookie.

Last June, the Flyers sent Bobrovsky to Columbus for a second-round pick (promising goalie Anthony Stolarz) and fourth-round pick (left winger Taylor Leier) in the 2012 draft. They also acquired a fourth-rounder in the 2013 draft.

At his season-ending news conference recently, Holmgren said he did not feel haunted by Bobrovsky's success.

"No. I'm happy for Sergei," Holmgren said. "He might be the hardest-working player I've ever seen at any position."

It's easy to look at the situation in hindsight and say the Flyers panicked when they signed Bryzgalov and reduced Bobrovsky's role. But Bryzgalov was a proven veteran who had been a Vezina finalist himself.

That said, it's interesting to look at some of Snider's other comments after the Flyers were swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2011 conference semifinals.

Snider made it a point to call Bobrovsky the franchise's "goalie of the future."

"I think he'll be a great goalie. He had an incredible first year, considering where he came from and that he didn't play on a particularly great team in Europe," Snider said at the time. "His future is outstanding. He's still learning the game and how to handle the puck. But he did a lot better job in the second half of the year. He has a lot of talent, and he's only going to get better and pick up the nuances of the North American game."

Turns out he did. In Columbus.

The Flyers' mistake wasn't in signing Bryzgalov. It was in misreading the market and giving him a ludicrous, nine-year deal, assuring their "goalie of the future" would make a name for himself elsewhere.

The irony in all this, of course, is that Bobrovsky has indirectly played a key role in strengthening the Flyers' goaltending. In Columbus, Bobrovsky took the job away from Steve Mason, who was traded to the Flyers and in seven late-season games for his new club, looked like the goalie who was once dominant - and not the one who was lost with the Blue Jackets.

The change of scenery was good for Bobrovsky; good for Mason; and, in the end, perhaps good for both franchises.


Just Say 'Bob'

Former Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, put up better numbers this season than the other Vezina Trophy finalists, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and San Jose's Antti Niemi.

But will the general managers bypass Bobrovsky in their voting because his team did not make the playoffs? Here are the numbers:

Goalie, teamRecordGAASave pct.Shutouts Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus21-11-62.00.9324 Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers24-16-32.05.9262 Antti Niemi, San Jose24-12-62.16.9244


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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