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Who’s to Blame for the Sergei Bobrovsky Debacle?

Jun 17, 2013, 3:45 PM EDT

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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.

  1. kneub6 - Jun 17, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    Lavy was quick to pull a young Bob, but he definitely had high praise/hopes for him. Todd Richards told the Columbus Dispatch what Lavy said to him after they traded him to Columbus:

    “He just went on about Sergei Bobrovsky: ‘You’re going to love this guy. He competes. He works. He’ll help drive your team. He’s a great kid.’ That got me excited, and he was absolutely right on all of it.”

    So while blame falls on him partially, I’d have to believe this is mostly a Homer/Snider thing.

  2. mykhuis - Jun 17, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    Not only would Bob not have won the Vezina here, a 48-game season is a small sample size. Bob could well have regressed had he played a full season, and I expect him to do just that next year. He’s still good and has definitely improved, but it remains to be seen just how good he is. He’s certainly going to get paid now.

    Another thing to note: Paul Holmgren took an undrafted free agent goalie with league-average save percentage and turned him into Anthony Stolarz, Taylor Leier, and Simon Gagne. That’s good asset management, especially considering Bob was never really going to get a shot here given the Bryzgalov situation.

    Speaking of the Bryzgalov situation, that is 100% on Snider. So if you want to blame someone for losing Bob, start at the top.

    • Matt S. - Jun 17, 2013 at 8:16 PM

      Spot on.

  3. Lol - Jun 17, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    I would have been really sad if Leighton hadn’t been given that second chance in the 2011 playoffs. He sucked, but I needed to see it with my own eyes.

    I know Flyers fans are quick to blame the goalie, but Bob was never as good as Bryz when he was here. Ilya holds longest shutout streak for Flyers. Bob never got a single shutout.

    • mykhuis - Jun 17, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Brian Boucher holds the NHL’s all-time record for a shutout streak. BETTER THAN BOB AND BRYZ PUT TOGETHER

  4. steve - Jun 17, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    you forgot to mention that Tim Thomas won it in 2008-09 and then was benched for the 2009-10 season because he was so bad (Flyers came back against Rask)

    Goalies are just weird.

    • Blackscreen - Jun 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      Actually, you have it backwards. Thomas was benched for Rask in 09-10, and then was the starter again in 10-11 when they won the cup.

  5. Negativo - Jun 17, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    There’s nobody to just is what it is..It was a good trade then, and goalies get hot and are unpredictable and sometimes that just happens. This is maybe the only moment that the flyers gave up on a young player and it wasn’t there fault (sharp, seidenberg). We got good compensation and now lets hope they regret giving up Steve Mason.
    Fact is, Bob was flawed and not developing those flaws here…he ducked his shoulders when the opposition would rush him down the wing…and he would get exposed in the playoffs.

    If anyone can we blame Jeff Reese? How does he still have a job? Has he ever developed a goalie?

    • brad - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:18 PM

      “If anyone can we blame Jeff Reese? How does he still have a job? Has he ever developed a goalie?”

      I’ve been wondering this for years. Is there some way to analyze his effectiveness?

      • hatter12 - Jun 19, 2013 at 12:39 PM

        Exactly – the development process is to blame. Went Bob went to CBJ they changed his style slighly – had him staying on his feet more and making himself bigger in the net. The impact that goaltending coaching and defensive systems have on a goalie cannot be rated high enough. Look at Bryz and Mike Smith in PHX. Sure they make saves but the defensive system that the entire team (not just the blueliners) play makes a sizable impact on their numbers.

  6. Stan - Jun 17, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Considering all winners over the previous 10 years (Brodeur x4, Thomas x2, Theodore x1, Miller x1, Kiprusoff x1, Lundqvist x1), it’s pretty exclusive company with a number of decent goalies not getting a sniff. For all the hype around a “pressure-tested” goalie or a goalie that can steal multiple key games for you, unless you’re name is Brodeur, it’s a hard position to build a team around or even solve the woes of a defensive-lacking club.

  7. OneManWolfpack - Jun 17, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    I want to see what Bob does next year. Especially in a full 82 game season. Then we can judge.

  8. Guest - Jun 17, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    The fans. Everyone said this guy was nothing. Much like you’re doing with a lot of the young Phillies right now. Learn a lesson.

    • BenE. - Jun 17, 2013 at 8:08 PM


  9. BenE. - Jun 17, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    And now Homer signs 35 year old Mark Streit, he of a -51 career +/- and -14 last year on a playoff team, to a 4 year, $5.25 mil per year contract WITH a limited NTC. He is out of his f*cking mind! Everyone wants a young defenseman but doesn’t want to give any of ours a chance. Instead we get damaged good that could never really play defense in the first place. Giroux is gonna be signing with another team next summer at this rate.

    • Stannis - Jun 17, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      I think this pretty much guarantees that Bryz will be amnestied along with Briere.

    • Matt S. - Jun 17, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      I wouldn’t have a problem with him making over 5 mil if it was just a one or two year deal. But four?! Streit’s got another year or two left of decent productivity baring injury (dude’s pretty durable at least) but that contract is gonna haunt us when his game eventually declines. Giroux will get his money, it’s Couturier and Schenn I’m worried about. It’s gonna be hard to give them raises after their rookie contracts expire when we shell out huge money for Giroux and we’re still paying this guy 5.25. I’d rather they just give him 6.5/7 mil for just 1 year.

      • BenE. - Jun 17, 2013 at 10:27 PM

        Not to mention… I was not the biggest Matt Carle fan, but he’s looking pretty good at only $250,000 more right now. If it was up to me we wouldn’t have either, but as it is, we let Carle walk, then sign Streit to an insane contract the following year.

        You’re right, hard to see Giroux walking, but this absolutely further pinches pennies for a team with a lot of young talent to retain in the near future. Unbelievable. The Flyers miss the playoffs with the highest payroll in the NHL, and their answer is to sign Mark Streit to a 4 year $21 mil contract. What is going on!

    • Paul - Jun 18, 2013 at 2:55 AM

      This team will be in a stranglehold of inept moves until Ed Snider dies. Even if Holmgren is replaced, the team will just replace him with a stool pigeon of a GM who does whatever the, at this point senile, Chairman wills. The Flyers are the new Oakland Raiders.

  10. JSF - Jun 18, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    The “typical” Flyers fans are the biggest sheep in the land. Cheer the franchise no matter what even though it’s run by a bunch of dopes.

    • willh888 - Jun 18, 2013 at 10:06 AM

      There’s a cross state team who better resembles your fair weathered approach to sports

  11. Simmonds17 - Jun 18, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    Anthony Stolarz = not a debacle

    Happy for Bob but I don’t think he’s going to go on to have a career like Mike Richter or even Olie Kolzig. He had a big year but long-term I think he’ll be about league average.

  12. Wagger - Jun 19, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    No comparison because The Blue Jackets didn’t mind tanking the whole season and throwing Bob to the wolves. I listened to a lot of Columbus games and even the announcers have that laid back, who cares attitude. Flyers management has always been like an impatient, impulsive kid with a lot of money.

    • Joey - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      The Jackets tanked this season? Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what?


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