For the past seven years, Sergei Bobrovsky has been the go-to goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets. In fact, he’s cemented himself as one of the best in the entire NHL. Affectionately known as “Bob”, the goalie holds every record of interest for the Blue Jackets franchise in net too. That includes games played (312), wins (176), save percentage (.923), and goals-against average (2.37). Bobrovsky played between the pipes for all three of the franchise’s playoff wins, and set the single-season win record for the club with 41 in 2016-17.
With all that in mind, Sergei Bobrovsky unfortunately starts the final year of his contract this week. Next summer he becomes a free agent, unless an extension can be reached before then. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen already appears to be facing some difficulty with extensions though; forward Artemi Panarin made things explicitly clear that he has no interest re-signing in Columbus. That could be present in Bobrovsky’s mind too, as the fellow Russian seems to be reluctant at the very least.
In the Crease: Sergei Bobrovsky May Test Free Agency
“We’ll see.” This was Bobrovsky’s answer to questions regarding whether this would be his last season in Columbus. To most people, “we’ll see” doesn’t come across as the most enthusiastic or promising way to answer that question.
Bobrovsky went on to say; “I told the situation to the management of the Blue Jackets, so they know everything. They know my plans for the season. They know my plans for the future…they know everything. You have to ask them.”
Bobrovsky Indifferent Regarding Future with Jackets
Ultimately, the situation still must play out. Maybe the team goes on a run this year and the success persuades “Bob” to stick around. After all, they’re built well and have plenty of optimism surrounding their roster. However, taking Panarin and Bobrovsky out of the mix would effectively mute any thoughts of a Cup run in the near future.
Given how direct Panarin has been with his intentions to leave, its hard to imagine Kekalainen won’t trade him. Keeping him all season guarantees he’ll walk for free next summer. He’s likely exploring options as we speak; a sign-and-trade could result in actually landing a decent return, more than just trading a pending UFA would. The same applies to Sergei Bobrovsky and his situation.
Blue Jackets without Bobrovsky
Behind Sergei Bobrovsky, the Jackets don’t have the most certain replacement in their system. Backup Joonas Korpisalo may be young, but his three years of NHL experience have yet to produce solid results. In fact, his best season came in his first year, 2015-16, when he went 16-11-4 with a .920 save percentage. Since then, he’s posted a .905 save percentage or worse, with a weaker-than-average opponent quality. His number of starts has dropped annually too, as Bobrovsky consistently gets the team much better results.
Last season, Korpisalo went 8-8-1 with a poor-.897 save percentage. Bobrovsky finished 37-22-6 with a stellar-.921 save percentage. Clearly, losing “Bob” doesn’t bode well for Columbus.
CBJ Prospects Lack Goaltending Depth
Beyond Korpisalo, there’s even less to be excited about in net. Jean-Francois Berube will fill the starting job for their AHL franchise, and is best left there. A long-time New York Islanders prospect, Berube is now 27 years old with only 34 games of NHL experience. The limited experience he has isn’t very good either; Berube is 9-10-4 in his career, with a .898 save percentage. Last year he won only three of ten starts with the Chicago Blackhawks, an especially disappointing figure when you notice his quality start percentage was only .300.
It doesn’t get any prettier from here. After Berube, Matiss Kivlenieks ranks fourth on the Jackets’ depth chart. He finished last year, his first in the AHL, with a .891 save percentage. The young goalie obviously needs time to develop, and may turn into something great someday, but he’s far from ready.
Obviously, the Jackets will be desperately searching for an external replacement if they lose Bobrovsky. And that “if” seems pretty close to a certainty.
If Panarin Goes, Bobrovsky Probably Quick to Follow
At the end of the day, with Panarin’s days clearly numbered, you’ve gotta imagine Bobrovsky’s are too. The two could be traded together as a pair, or separately. This of course all depends on the kinds of offers available to the Blue Jackets in return for them separately and together.
The unfortunate thing, though, is that these two are superstars. They are easily the two best guys wearing Blue Jackets uniforms, and are irreplaceable internally. Furthermore, any trade would most likely send the players to contending teams. And contending teams aren’t going to be very likely to send high-end roster players to Columbus in exchange for Panarin or Bobrovsky. They’ll want to add players without subtracting from the roster, meaning Columbus would be forced to take draft picks and prospects.
Something is still better than nothing, though. They can take picks and prospects, or they can wait for next summer and lose the two to free agency. Basically, Bobrovsky and Panarin can force CBJ into a mini rebuild one way or another. They’ll be on the look for a starting goalie and first line winger to replace two of the best in the league.
COLUMBUS, OH – OCTOBER 27: Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) holds up a broken hockey stick during the second period in a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets on October 27, 2017, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH. Blue Jackets defeated the Sabres (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)