It might have been one of the worst-kept secrets in free agency. Sergei Bobrovsky has signed a seven-year deal with the Florida Panthers worth $10 million per season.
Bobrovsky’s seven-year average places him second to Carey Price ($10.5 million) among NHL goaltenders.
The Rocky Exit from Columbus
Throughout most of the 2018-19 NHL season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were aware that Bobrovsky was probably leaving the organization when the season came to a close.
Back in May, during an interview with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen indicated that the team was comfortable running with Joonas Korpisalo and rookie Elvis Merzlikins as their goalie tandem for next season.
It was messaging like that, some struggles during the season and the desire to simply move on that led to speculation this past season would be Bobrovsky’s last season.
This, of course, all came after an incident in January where he was pulled from a game against the Tampa Bay Lighting, didn’t take it well and left the bench and locker room. He answered questions with the media later and said it was fine and added what he told his teammates would stay inside the room, but most everyone understood, things weren’t cozy between Bobrovsky and the organization.
Columbus Tried To Make Run
Despite knowing that they were likely to lose their starting and all-star caliber netminder to free agency, the Blue Jackets chose not to trade Bobrovsky at the deadline. Instead, their decision was to make a run at the playoffs and see how far a stacked team could go.
Bobrovsky was going to be their guy and in 10 games, he posted a 2.41 GAA and .925 SV%. He wasn’t able to help the team out of the second round of the postseason but his career numbers along with some strong playoff performances did cement him as the top goaltender in free agency.
The gamble in Columbus didn’t pay off and the franchise would have to start planning for the future while their stars exited the team and the city one by one.
The Free Agency Interview Period
It wasn’t really much of a surprise when the Florida Panthers became the front-runners and eventually the team to land the top free agent netminder on the market. They’d made moves to clear space, trading away their current goalies, watched Robert Luongo retire and had the cap space available to pay Bobrovsky the high salary he wanted.
Panthers owner Vinnie Viola told GM Dale Tallon he would be allowed to spend to the cap ceiling to pull his team back into playoff contention and on the eve of free agency, David Pagnotta reported Bobrovsky to Florida was pretty much a done deal.
More and more media scribes told the same story, the only other thought being, would Bobrovsky be going by himself? Or, would his former teammate Artemi Panarin join him?
Bob McKenzie provided insight on that speculation on Sunday evening when he tweeted:
It doesn’t appear as though Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky will be signed as a set. Signs point toward Bobrovsky ending up in FLA while NYI appear the favourite to land Panarin. Both players are repped by the same agent, Paul Theofanous.
Florida Did Just Fine
Even though the Panthers didn’t land Panarin, getting the best goalie on the market and other pieces make them a team to watch next season.
They may regret giving this much term and money to a goaltender who has struggled from time to time but they were willing to take a chance Bobrovsky still is what he thinks he is, which is the best goalie in the NHL.