What if the Flyers had stayed the course with Bobrovsky?

Sergei Bobrovsky

      Hindsight, as the old cliché goes, is 20/20 and nowhere is this more relevant than assessing young goaltending talent one day and questioning that evaluation in the years down the road.

      Take, for example, Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who on Saturday night recorded a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers and sent the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final.

    You might recall the Russian netminder began his hockey career with the Flyers way back in the fall of 2010.

      Philadelphia had made it to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final that spring and forced Chicago to an overtime Game 6 before conceding the title to the Blackhawks. Goaltending might have been a deciding factor, as the Flyers used a platoon of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, while Chicago stuck with Antti Niemi.

      The Flyers had planned to draft Bobrovsky way back in 2006 but general manager Paul Holmgren decided to decline due to the difficulty of signing Russian players at the time.

      Ultimately, Bobrovsky signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers and when Leighton was injured, the Russian stepped in and performed quite well, posting a 28-13-8 mark with a 2.59 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

      He did not perform well in the playoffs, however, and his stock dropped rapidly.

      The Flyers, still believing they were strong contenders, went looking for a goaltender with a proven resume. A nine-year, $51-million contract was offered to free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who had helped Anaheim win the Stanley Cup in 2007.

      That marked the beginning of the end for Bobrovsky’s tenure in Philadelphia. He spent one more season here, backing up Bryzgalov before being traded to Columbus.

      Bobrovsky established himself as a legitimate NHL goalie with the Blue Jackets, winning the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender twice.

      Now, at age 35, he’s finding his form again with the Panthers. He’s a finalist for the 2024 Vezina.

      Jody Shelley, a teammate of Bobrovsky’s on the Flyers in 2012 and later around him as a broadcaster with the Blue Jackets, says it’s nice to see the goaltender get a shot at the big prize after all these years.

      “As a former teammate and an admirer of all the players in the playoffs right now, of course you pull for the individuals,” Shelley said in a telephone interview. “A guy like Bobrovsky and what he went through. . .you pull for these guys. You have a soft spot for guys like that because you know how hard they work.”

      It’s always interesting to go back and talk about “what might have been.” In this case, the Flyers just may have given up on Bobrovsky a little too quickly. Especially given the fact the Flyers really haven’t had much stability in goal since the days of Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall and Pelle Lindbergh.

      “The way that all developed – and, as a player in the locker room – when you saw ‘Bryz’ get signed after Bobrovsky was brought in; Bryz was a guy who had the potential to be that No. 1,” Shelley said. “I can’t say for sure but it seemed like Sergei was a little surprised by that.”

      At the outset of the arrangement, Bobrovsky kept things professional and sort of accepted his role as Bryzgalov’s sub.

      “When you look back at that whole thing, it was almost like Sergei was a student of the NHL,” Shelley said. “I think he still is one of those guys who approaches every day as a student of the game. He didn’t speak English (in his early years) but he interacted with his teammates, took care of his business and there wasn’t a day when he didn’t have a smile on his face.”

      For obvious reasons, that made him a good teammate and someone the guys wanted to play for.

      “You could see the foundation he had established when he first walked in the locker room,” Shelley said. “He was wide-eyed and curious as to where he fit in. He quickly figured it out. From my vantage point, he was going to have to work his way into the league a little bit.”

      Shelley said Bobrovsky is still pretty much the same guy as he was with the Flyers.

      “I saw him about a month ago and he said he doesn’t do as much as he used to (in terms of preparation),” Shelley said. “He’s known for being that guy that the details have to be taken care of, like training and how he feels.

      “When we were in Columbus, I think he knew where he fit in with the team. He is an individual, which the goaltending position obviously is, but he knew here who he was playing behind and how they were playing.”

      Maybe that demeanor wasn’t in place during the brief time Bobrovsky was in Philly.

      “I think when he first got to Philly, if you think about it, it had to be a whirlwind with what was happening,” Shelley said. “(Chris) Pronger got hurt and that was a big part of the Flyers’ defense. As goalies mature, they figure out where they fit in the system with the guys in front of them.

      “I think Sergei’s done a really good job of that. You see him all the time patting his defensemen on the back. It’s an appreciation of being that last line of defense. He understands that more than ever. You watch him last night (a 3-2 win over the Rangers in Game 5 of the conference final on Thursday). . .anytime there’s a TV timeout, he acknowledges his defensemen.”

      There’s almost a Zen-like approach to the position.

      “Consistency, I think that’s the main word with Bobrovsky,” Shelley said. “He’s so consistent and at peace where he’s at mentally. When he first got to Florida with that big contract (seven years, $70 million, signed in 2019), I’m sure he heard all the noise.

      “What he did last year in the playoffs (getting the Panthers to the Final), that was another part of his growth.”

      And to think it all began back in Philly so long ago.

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About Wayne Fish 2446 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.