It’s never easy for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is it? For years, the franchise wandered in the wilderness before a real team began to come together, only to run into the Pittsburgh Penguins twice and the Washington Capitals once in the first round of the playoffs. In the past two years, they were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions and the Blue Jackets have still not won a post-season series in their history.
But this year was looking positive. Columbus had nice balance throughout its lineup and a coach with a good beat on the team in John Tortorella. This could be the year the Blue Jackets win a round.
That is, of course, until you considered the Artemi Panarin/Sergei Bobrovsky situation. Two of the team’s most important players are widely assumed to be leaving as unrestricted free agents this summer and the chance of wooing either back is slim to none. While Panarin is the team’s leading scorer once again, Bobrovsky has been less than stellar in goal.
The big Russian netminder is putting up his worst numbers since joining the Blue Jackets six years ago and on Thursday, Columbus announced that Bobrovsky would not be with the team for its game against Nashville.
“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture,” said GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for (Thursday)’s game.”
Columbus ended up beating a very good Predators team 4-3 in overtime, with Panarin tallying two goals, including the game-winner. Backup Joonas Korpisalo made 29 saves for the win.
The Blue Jackets currently sit third in the chaotic Metropolitan Division and they have to give it a go this year, assuming Panarin and Bobrovsky walk on July 1.
But Bobrovsky is proving to be a problem now, so what can they do? I propose they do nothing: Fences must be mended and ‘Bob’ needs to earn his team’s trust back over this mysterious “incident.” I’m sure it’s obvious to everyone that he hasn’t been his usual stellar self this season and from the outside, it looks like he has one foot out the door already.
Should the Jackets trade Bobrovsky, in order to get something in return, rather than lose him for nothing in free agency? I say no. First off, you’re not getting any sort of value for him right now. Kekalainen’s fellow GMs will not help him through this tough situation; they’ll offer pennies on the dollar. The only option I could see in terms of a trade partner is a team like Philadelphia, since the Flyers are so far out of the playoff picture that the move couldn’t possibly come back to bite Columbus later. But the Flyers could also just wait until summer and get Bobrovsky without losing an asset (they also have to think about Carter Hart’s future role).
The best-case scenario for everyone, of course, is for Bobrovsky to do his penance and make it up to his teammates on the ice. Keep in mind: the Vezina-winning goaltender is playing for a big-money, long-term contract right now and he still has zero playoff series victories under his belt, as well. Given the importance of cap management in this era, teams need to be smart about their blockbuster signings and Bobrovsky must prove he can be clutch.
Right now it’s an uneasy marriage of convenience, but Bobrovsky needs a run with Columbus to prove he’s worth the big dollars this summer, while the Blue Jackets need a netminder who can get them into the post-season and hopefully win a round or two.
It’s a narrow channel to navigate, but it’s still the best option right now.