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.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career – at least his Villanova career – with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best on Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points – 9 ½ below his average.

“He’s getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. “He’s down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he’s down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he’s battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That’s more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

“We know he’s talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he’s battling and the way he’s not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that’s the best part.”

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5 ½ rebounds per game. The others were D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that’s where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

“Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows,” coach Jay Wright said. “We know. When he’s in the game, we are executing at a high level. We’re just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you’ve got to be able to (play defense) first and he’s been doing that all year.

“(He’s) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you’ll probably see next year, but you’ve got to get the basics down first, which he’s done an incredible job of this year. It’s like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they’re not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is, because they don’t get to see it all the time.”

It’s not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

“It was a process,” Paschall said. “The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that’s defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

“The guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a brotherhood here and we’re all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It’s just a matter of focusing on my job.”

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he’s 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he’s come and in done what’s expected,” Jalen Brunson said.

“He’s done a great job for us and we’re extremely confident in him. It’s hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he’s done a good job.”

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

“Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game,” he said. “They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As thin as Villanova is – Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt – Paschall has been a life-saver.

It’s hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

“We see him getting better every day with his decision making,” Hart said of Paschall. “Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

“One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he’s doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.”

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

“I got to briefly shake his hand,” Pivetta said Sunday morning. “He knew I was like a stalker. He said, ‘Oh, right, you’re the guy from British Columbia.’ “

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.