In the bizarro-NHL, Lindy Ruff is unemployed, Martin Brodeur has more goals than Ryane Clowe and most notably, the Columbus Blue Jackets are playing better hockey than the Philadelphia Flyers.
The universe must have flipped sometime this season.
The Blue Jackets are just one point out of a playoff spot and the Flyers are looking like sellers with 34 calendar days left in the season. The expectations for these teams heading into 2013 have flip-flopped and are now the fate of the other team.
Why is this unfathomable occurrence a reality?
Lack of offensive production has played a major part in the downfall of the Flyers. Dealing with a laundry list of injuries throughout the season (Matt Read, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell to name a few), the Flyers have seen a drop in goals-scored. The team that expected to be an offensive powerhouse in 2013 ranks just 15th in the league with 2.67 goals scored per game.
In Columbus, the Blue Jackets have had their fair share of injuries as well. Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Dorsett, along with top offensive defenseman James Wisniewski, have all missed time with injury problems throughout the year. They are currently 29th in the league in goals-scored, amassing a measly 2.22 goals per game. Yet, they are sitting in 11th in a tight West with a 13-13-6 record on the year.
Offense is obviously not a big factor in Columbus’ success. The big difference between these teams can be directly pointed to the crease.
Sergei Bobrovsky, who was an undrafted goaltender, signed with the Flyers in the summer of 2010. Bobrovsky was not expected to play in the NHL the next season, but an injury to starter Michael Leighton gave Bobrovsky the chance to shine.
He did just that.
Bobrovsky was the opening day starter for the Flyers in 2010, as he stymied the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-2 victory. Bobrovsky flew high as the split-starter with Brian Boucher for much of that season, posting an amazing 28-13-8 record as a rookie. He faced struggles in the playoffs that year, as he was benched in favor of Boucher. After the Flyers were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, General Manager Paul Holmgren decided to look outside of his current goaltending for an answer in net.
Holmgren traded for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov at the season’s end, later signing him to a 9-year, $51 million contract to make him the franchise goaltender. Bryzgalov followed that up with an average 2011-12, posting a 33-16-7 record with a 2.48 GAA and a .907 save percentage. While those numbers are not terrible, they are not at an elite level.
The Flyers trusted in Bryzgalov. So much so that they moved Bobrovsky during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to the Blue Jackets, who were having goalie struggles of their own. The Flyers received three draft choices for the then-23 year old.
Bobrovsky Dominating West While Flyers Slump in East
Since the move, Bobrovsky has emerged as a top-goalie in the league. He has posted a 2.17 GAA and .927 GAA, both of which are in the top-eight of the league. His 11-7-5 record is stunning; his best run just recently came to an end. He posted an 8-0-2 streak that ran through the most of March. He has been the goaltending savior that the Blue Jackets so desperately needed.
On the other end of the big trade, the Flyers are currently 13th in the East with 27 points, which is five points out of a playoff spot with 18 games to play. The Flyers would need a big end to the season to even sneak into the final playoff seed.
Nothing in this lackluster season has shown that this team is ready for a big push.
Bryzgalov’s numbers have fallen even further from last year, recording a 13-13-1 record with a 2.79 GAA and a below-acceptable .898 save percentage. As a team, the Flyers have allowed the 6th most goals-against (3.03 per game).
It is hard to blame the Flyers’ defense, as well. The team ranks 8th best in shots against per game, as just 27.1 shots find their way to the Flyers goaltenders (league average is right below 29 shots per game).
Holmgren Under Question
After trading away stars Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who both went on to win a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles last summer, the Flyers’ GM has shown that he is willing to take risks. Signing an unproven playoff goaltender to a 9-year deal has proven to be a risk that was not worth taking. In fact, rumors are circling that the Flyers will buy-out Bryzgalov’s remaining seven years at the end of the season. This would round out a disastrous experiment that Flyers ownership will not soon forget.
Behind Bryzgalov, the Flyers are pretty thin in goaltending depth. Currently, the Flyers’ best prospects are youngsters Cal Heeter, currently with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, and Anthony Stolarz, currently with the London Knights of the OHL. Both goaltenders are big in stature but need more work at a pro level.
Bobrovsky, a native of Novokuznetsk, Russia, may have been traded prematurely. Although Bryzgalov looked like an elite goalie while with the Phoenix Coyotes, a quality backup is never a bad thing. Brian Boucher simply cannot be expected to relieve Bryzgalov every time he has a kink him his armor.
Bobrovsky may be a player that was rejuvenated by changing teams, but the Flyers will never know that for sure. Perhaps if he were given more time with the Flyers, he could have found the same magic that he has discovered in Columbus.
I am a former NHL media member and reporter for the St. Louis Blues, working for various media outlets. Currently, I am an NHL News Writer and Editor for The Hockey Writers. I live in St. Louis and work as a freelance copywriter in numerous industries.