Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jettisoned by Flyers, Bobrovsky responds with Vezina Trophy

Compiled by Phanatic staff

Eventually, the effects of the perpetual motion machine known as the goaltending carousel and Paul Holmgren's plan to deal with such was going to come back and haunt him, and it managed to do so in the worst way.

Sergei Bobrovsky took home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best netminder when the league announced its four biggest awards on Saturday night.

Bobrovsky, only 24 and capping his third NHL season, beat out last year's winner Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. His ascension marks another victory for European-trained goalies, as he became the first Russian-born crease guardian to be so honored in North America.

"It is a great honor. You dream about some day winning the Vezina Trophy but there are a lot of great goaltenders, like Henrik and Antti, so it is hard but I am very proud," Bobrovsky said. "It also means we had a good team in Columbus and I could not have won this award without my teammates and coaches."

In his third NHL campaign and first away from Philadelphia, Bobrovsky took the starting job from an ineffective Steve Mason, going for a 21-11-6 record, 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage along with his first four career shutouts. He finished with 17 first-place votes and appeared on 26 of the 30 ballots cast, accumulating 110 points.

What's more, is that the English-challenged crease guardian finished fifth in league MVP voting, after leading the Jackets to the verge of a playoff berth before just falling short.

When the Flyers plucked Bobrovsky from Novokuznetsk of the Kontinental Hockey League back in 2010, there was no inkling of the true ceiling of his potential.

At 22 years and 17 days old, he became the youngest goaltender to win a season-opening game for the Flyers in a 3-2 victory at Pittsburgh in October of 2010, eclipsing Ron Hextall's mark which stood from  October of 1986, then added NHL Rookie of the Month honors in November.

He was eventually given the reins full time during the regular season, going 28-13-8 with a 2.59 goals against, but faltered with the rest of the team down the stretch and didn't engender confidence in head coach Peter Laviolette during a drama-filled 11-game playoff course two Springs ago.

That earned him a spot behind the never-ending circus known as Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011, and the demotion behind the $51 million dollar man acquired under certain orders from those higher than Holmgren certainly hurt his confidence and it showed in his play.

But even with the fresh start -- so often offered by the Flyers' front office when a player whose talents outstrip his opportunity to play -- that came last Summer upon his trade to Columbus, didn't hint at the greatness to come.

That start, of course, was delayed three-and-a-half-months by the third lockout in 18 years, and by Columbus' own slow beginning with Mason in the crease at the outset.

It all began with a March that stands tall in franchise lore. Bobrovsky was finally raised to starter, and quickly warmed to the task, being named to the NHL's player of the week ledger twice and clocking in as the league's third star for the month after compiling a 9-2-3 record with a 1.49 GAA, .950 save percentage and three whitewashes in 14 games.

As the Blue Jackets ended up with their most successful month in the entire history of the team (10-2-4), he allowed only 20 goals on 404 shots in 807 minutes played, surrendering one goal or fewer in 10 of his 14 appearances and making 30-or-more saves seven times.

"I don’t know. I am still going to work hard to improve every day and help my team to win," Bobrovsky said when asked if there was anything special which contributed to his sudden hot streak. "The goal of every team and player is to win the Stanley Cup and I haven’t done that yet."

Meanwhile, it was a thrill a minute in the never-ending soap opera between Bryzgalov and the mainstream media in Philadelphia, which produced more storm clouds in the locker room than the Flyers conjured up through their on-ice performance.

That drama has spilled over to this offseason, beset with equal and opposite rumors of Bryzgalov's status as locker-room martyr or buyout casualty.

With the new divisional alignments on tap for next season, Columbus and Philadelphia will be seeing a lot more of each other. That's an unforeseen consequence of a front office whose modus operandi is to find trading partners in the opposite conference where backlash can be felt least.

Now Holmgren and goalie coach Jeff Reese will both have their feet held to the fire over this decision, which has made Jackets goaltender coach Ian Clark look as good as ever.

"He was a big part of my game this year. We changed some small details in how I was playing and that really helped me a lot," said Bobrovsky of Clark.

And while it remains to be seen what kind of path this Vezina victory so early in his career will forge, it's good to know Bobrovsky's not looking too far down the road.

"When I was traded to Columbus, I didn't think of what people said or people think. The most important thing for me was to concentrate how I can help this team, what can I do better, how could I prepare myself to make this team even better."

Step one is already accomplished. Step two, an unintended consequence, was making his old team which couldn't get out of its own way to try and continue his development look foolish in the process.

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