Who’s to Blame for the Sergei Bobrovsky Debacle?

Who’s to Blame for the Sergei Bobrovsky Debacle?

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?

Peter Laviolette

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.

Paul Holmgren

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.

Ed Snider

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.”

He paused.

“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.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79 2/3 innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist, but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.