You may have missed it, because the NHL for some reason thought it would be a good idea to announce their individual award winners over a weekend in June, but Sergei Bobrovsky did in fact take home this season’s Vezina Trophy. He beat out Antti Niemi. He eclipsed Henrik Lundqvist.
Bobrovsky is the best goaltender in all the land. And the Flyers traded him to Columbus last summer.
The trade was perfectly logical in context. The franchise signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract, blocking Bob in the process. They kept him around for one more year, but there was no sense in allowing a 24-year-old prospect to languish on the bench most nights, not when the Blue Jackets were willing to send a second-round pick and two fourths to acquire his services.
While we’re at it, we should probably add the disclaimer that Bobrovsky most likely would not have won the Vezina had he played for Philly this year. I can’t speak for the Columbus blueliners, but it’s hard to believe they could have been more dysfunctional than the Flyers’ defensemen were in 2013. This is a club that had much bigger problems than who was in goal.
None of which means the franchise wouldn’t be better off if Bob were still around, especially given the ongoing debate as to whether the team should amnesty Bryzgalov. Signing Bryz in the first place was the real misstep in all of this. The front office painted itself into a corner with that huge deal when a better option might have been on the roster all along.
(Oddly enough, that’s precisely the type of situation we’re hoping they can avoid by NOT using a buyout.)
The only question left to ask is who do we blame? The answer might not be so simple, because the situation was handled poorly all around. Peter Laviolette, Paul Holmgren, and Ed Snider all played a direct role in the abrupt end to Bobrovsky’s development in Orange & Black. Now which one of them should step up and claim ultimate responsibility for this mess?
Why Lavvy? He doesn’t hand out the contracts or pick the players.
Because his mishandling of the netminder issue set off the organizational panic in the first place. Bobrovsky had himself a fine rookie year for the Flyers in 2010-11. He appeared in 54 games during the regular season, posting a 28-13-8 record, .915 save percentage, and 2.59 goals against average – nothing incredible, but promising.
Bob’s performance began to slip a little down the stretch though, and at the first sign of trouble in the playoffs, the head coach yanked him. After losing a tight Game 1 in their first-round series against Buffalo, Bobrovsky got the early hook in Game 2, and would only start one more game during the entire postseason.
It appeared even then Laviolette’s decision may have been rash, especially considering the other option were Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Now it was obviously the wrong move to lose faith in Bob so easily.
Homer, it seems, was merely taking orders – more on that in a moment – to end the goalie controversy once and for all. The easiest way to do that is for the general manager to go out and sign or trade for a player who will be “the man.” That would be Bryzgalov.
The mistake here was negotiating a nine-year contract, making it impossible Bobrovsky would ever see the light of day for the Flyers again. Lavvy actually played Bob quite a bit early on during Bryz’s first season in Philly, but simple math – $51 million to be exact – dictated there could never be a true competition, that the young guy would never get a fair shake at all.
There was an admittedly thin market for goaltenders during the 2011 offseason, but signing one that forced the franchise’s hand in writing off Bob as a potential long-term solution was a questionable move then, and the absolutely wrong decision in hindsight.
There’s no denying Snider’s comments after the Flyers' humiliating sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in round two were the impetus behind the Bryzgalov deal. Let’s revisit those:
Told that the fan base was lamenting about needing a true No. 1 goalie for a few decades, Snider fired back: “I want one, too.”
“So either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again.”
Never is a long time – certainly much longer than the nine years Bryz agreed to. The club chairman wanted a No. 1 goaltender though, and (theoretically at least) he got it.
Snider also said Bobrovsky was the club’s goaltender of the future in the same interview, so Holmgren is still the person responsible for signing Bryzgalov to that contract. However, this speaks to a broader problem within the organization, that being their impatience, and since coaches and GM’s come and go with some regularity, that trait appears to start from the top. Young, developing talents are frequently jettisoned in favor of quick-fix veterans, and while the Flyers are almost always competitive as a result, the flip side is quality players get away and wind up tearing it up with other franchises for many years.
I’m not sure anybody could have predicted Bob was going to win the Vezina the first season after he was traded, especially in Columbus of all places. But even at the time, giving Bobrovsky one year to prove himself, and yanking the rug out from under him in the playoffs anyway, was not the most prudent series of decisions that could have been made.
Since we can’t go back in time and correct it, all we can do now is point fingers.