Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky‘s time with the Columbus Blue Jackets is drawing to a close.
Whether he’s moved before the Feb. 25th trade deadline or departs in July as an unrestricted free agent, the 30-year-old netminder won’t be returning this fall for an eighth season with the Jackets.
Any lingering questions over his future in Columbus were likely dispelled after he missed last Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators. An unspecified incident involving Bobrovsky following last Tuesday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning prompted management to tell him to stay home.
No one on the club publicly discussed the issue. Following meetings on Friday between Bobrovsky and management, the coaching staff, and his teammates, everyone declared the situation resolved.
Nevertheless, the incident served to spotlight Bobrovsky’s growing unhappiness with the Jackets.
Last week, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Bobrovsky chafed at criticism of his performance during last spring’s playoffs. The goalie also bristled at the suggestion of seeing a sports psychologist to improve his postseason play. Friedman noted Bobrovsky skipped a meeting last August with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
Factor in a change in Blue Jackets goalie coaches last summer and Bobrovsky’s inconsistency throughout this season, and it seems he no longer has a future in Columbus.
As long as the Blue Jackets remained in playoff contention, it was assumed Bobrovsky would be retained for the remainder of the season. With backup Joonas Korpisalo lacking starter experience, no suitable replacement on their farm team, and a lack of talented goalies in this season’s trade market, their best option was to stick with the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
That could still be the plan, but last week’s drama could sorely test the front office’s patience.
If Bobrovsky’s performance and attitude fail to improve and reaches the point where it could threaten team chemistry or their playoff hopes, Kekalainen could decide shop the disgruntled netminder before Feb. 25.
As the only active multiple Vezina winner, Bobrovsky should be an attractive trade target. However, the troubling decline in his performance this season could be considered an indication that he’s past his prime.
Bobrovsky full no-movement clause is another sticking point. He could provide a list of suitable destinations but those clubs might not be in the market for his services. Those that could be might balk at paying what could be a steep asking price for a potential rental player unless a “sign-and-trade” scenario could be discussed.
Assuming Bobrovsky finishes the season in Columbus and tests the open market this summer, his erratic play could hurt his chances of landing a Price-like deal with another team.
Some observers believe his former club, the Philadelphia Flyers, could attempt to bring him back. Having tied an NHL single-season record for starting seven goalies, the Flyers desperately need help between the pipes. In the past, however, they’ve had some bad experiences with expensive free-agent goaltenders (hello there, Ilya Bryzgalov). Bobrovsky’s struggles this season could scare them off.
It’s been suggested the New York Islanders could target Bobrovsky. However, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks recently observed the Isles are getting solid goaltending from Robin Lehner this season. If Lehner maintains that performance over the rest of this season, the Isles could consider him a more affordable option.
The Florida Panthers are getting mentioned as a possible suitor for Bobrovsky. He could make a good tandem with Roberto Luongo. However, the Panthers would first have to move James Reimer, who’s signed through 2020-21 with an annual cap hit of $3.4 million.
Despite the baggage Bobrovsky’s saddled himself with this season, he remains the best goaltender potentially available in this summer’s free-agent market. He will find an NHL club willing to sign him to a lucrative long-term contract.
It just won’t be with the Columbus Blue Jackets.