Sergei Bobrovsky Continues to Confound the Philadelphia Flyers

Mar 25, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Sergei Bobrovsky’s 36-save shutout added another nail to the Philadelphia Flyers’ coffin. The trade that sent Bob to Columbus continues to haunt the franchise.

Paul Holmgren made a number of excellent trades during his tenure as the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.

He also had a few misfires (please pause for a moment of silence as we reflect on the Scott Hartnell-R.J. Umberger swap). But none of Holmgren’s mistakes has been so crippling to the franchise as the shortsighted decision to trade Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012.

Heading into the 2011-12 season, the Flyers had every reason to view themselves as a championship contender. In 2010, the Orange and Black enjoyed a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In 2011, the Flyers earned the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but were doomed by inconsistent goaltending and failed again in their quest to hoist the Cup.

They seemed perpetually incapable of finding a permanent answer for their goalie dilemma. Peter Laviolette juggled netminders like a drunken acrobat but never settled on a player on whom he could depend. His desperation, particularly in that fateful 2010-11 season, betrayed a frustrating reality: the Philadelphia Flyers had the talent to win a Stanley Cup, but the franchise’s Achilles Heel was its goaltending.

The Flyers’ 2011 playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres served as a perfect microcosm of their organizational dilemma. The Sabres’ roster lacked the talent that existed in the Flyers’ dressing room, but Ryan Miller proved a tremendous equalizer. Miller’s statistics for the series are skewed somewhat by a poor Game 7 performance, but the Sabres’ star netminder was nothing short of fantastic. He posted two shutouts and stood on his head for long stretches.

By contrast, the Flyers were routinely done in by poor goaltending. The nadir came in the first period of a must-win Game 6. Laviolette tapped Michael Leighton for the start. Leighton gave up three atrocious goals in the first period and was promptly replaced by Brian Boucher.

There was a third goalie on the depth chart that season. His name was Sergei Bobrovsky, but he had picked up the nickname “Bob” at some point during the course of the campaign. Bob had begun his professional career in his native Russia playing in the KHL. The Flyers signed him to a contract in May of 2010, but no one expected the young prospect to play his way onto the opening night roster, let alone to make the start in the first game of the 2010-11 season.

But there he was. Bob was sensational in that game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which the Flyers won by a score of 3-2. The rookie made 29 saves and earned the first star of the game. For the season, Bobrovsky posted a 2.59 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. He even played well enough to earn a win in the first game of the playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres, but the Orange and Black could not solve Miller. In the course of a jittery performance in Game 2, Laviolette gave Bob the hook. The young goalie never seemed to earn back the trust of his coach for the rest of his time in Philadelphia.

More from Philadelphia Flyers

There was an element of inscrutability to Bobrovsky. He spoke very little English and had not come up through the minor league system. The fan base knew little about him before he stood between the pipes for that opening night contest against the Penguins.

What we came to learn was that the young netminder paired his considerable talent with an unmatched work ethic. His intense pregame routines became regular fodder for the telecasts. He had catlike quickness and could move swiftly from post to post. His stickhandling skills were subpar, which owed a bit to the communications barrier that existed between him and his teammates. While he provided excellent coverage of the bottom of the net, his tendency to drop quickly frequently left the top of the cage exposed.

In short, he had work to do in order to improve his game. However, Bobrovsky has demonstrated over the course of his professional career a willingness to work on his weaknesses. His efforts have paid dividends for him and for his current employer, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovksy’s shutout win over the Flyers was his 40th victory of the season. For the year, Bob boasts a 1.99 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. He seems perfectly positioned to add another Vezina Trophy to his resume.

The Philadelphia Flyers never seemed to appreciate the gem they had discovered in Bobrovsky. After the 2010-11 season, the organization made the ill-fated decision to sign Ilya Bryzgalov. After a year serving as Bryzgalov’s backup, Bobrovsky forced his way out of Philadelphia.

Ed Snider spun a revisionist history of the decision to dump Bobrovsky that partially absolved Holmgren and Snider of any blame for their mishandling of the goaltending situation. Snider told’s Randy Miller:

"“Then, the problem is, not only did we make a mistake on the long-term contract (Bryzgalov received), but Bobrovksy’s a young guy and he told Paul, ‘As soon as my contract’s up I’m out of here,'” Snider said Saturday. “He wasn’t going to re-sign with us. He was going to go back to Russia (or) he was going to go with another team, but he wasn’t going to be a second-string goalie for the rest of his life. So that was also a problem, and Paul made the best of the situation.”"

Indeed, Snider owned up to the Bryzgalov debacle. However, he never seemed to grasp that his impatience was a major contributor to the Flyers’ instability. If the Philadelphia Flyers had been oriented toward the sort of long term roster-building strategy that they embrace today, the franchise would have recognized and cultivated Bobrovksky’s talent. The money they set aside for Bryzgalov would have been diverted to other areas of need. Finally, the gradual process of rebuilding the blue line through the draft may have occurred a few years earlier.

In short, the Flyers might not be floundering in mediocrity today if they had been more patient in the 2011 offseason. When one takes into consideration the other moves the Flyers made in that period, the situation becomes even more infuriating. The Flyers traded both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, opting to reconstruct their lineup around a younger core of players. Holmgren proved in that offseason that he could keep one eye on the present while focusing the other on the future; yet, he could not resolve the blind spot he had when evaluating Bobrovsky.

Next: Philadelphia Flyers: What was Hakstol Thinking?

Trading Bobrovsky was a historically awful decision, one current GM Ron Hextall would do well to keep in mind as the next generation of Flyers slowly infiltrate the roster. Though patience has historically not been the operating principle of the organization, it remains a virtue.