It’s entirely fair to say this season has not gone as planned for Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers. Bobrovsky has posted the worst goals-against average and the second-worst save percentage of his career at the most inopportune time. Led by Bobrovsky and coach Joel Quenneville, the Panthers were supposed to be not only a playoff team, but a post-season contender in 2019-20. At the moment the NHL shut down March 12, they were neither.
Bobrovsky will not win his third Vezina Trophy this season. That much is clear. In fact, he may have, albeit temporarily, dropped out of the top tier of NHL goaltenders this season. That doesn’t mean he won’t rebound and be back in that group whenever things get going next season and it’s far too early to say that Bobrovsky in on the downside of his career. Another season like this one, though, and the Panthers will rue the day they signed a 31-year-old goalie to a seven-year contract worth $70 million.
For now, though, Bobrovsky is doing what he can do for the people in the city in which he plays. The day after the season took a pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, Bobrovsky stepped up and pledged $100,000 to cover the salaries of the 200-plus part-time workers at the BB&T Center. The Panthers had six regular-season games left when the season was suspended and the arena was home to a number of other events. Largely because of Bobrovsky, the people who work those events will have their salaries covered through the length of the pandemic. After Bobrovsky made his donation, teammates jumped on board and Florida Panthers owner Vinnie Viola pledged to cover the rest and to make the employees whole until they can get back to work. There are very rich, very large-market teams that are doing a lot less than the Panthers.
For Bobrovsky, it was a matter of showing some compassion for the people who make his workplace function every day. “The workers at the arena are a big part of our events and a big part of our support,” Bobrovsky said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “And there was the risk for them to lose their jobs and possibly not be able to feed their families. Right now it’s a tough time for everybody in the whole world and for hockey as well. I think I just tried to do the right thing for those people, to support them and help them from my side.”
If that weren’t enough, Bobrovsky is working with the Panthers’ Foundation to equip first responders and medical workers with N95 masks. Artemi Panarin and Semyon Varlamov are doing the same thing in the New York area. “It’s good to support those people with these high-quality masks,” Bobrovsky said.
Luckily, Bobrovsky has a home gym, so keeping in good physical shape is not a problem for him. But it’s difficult not facing shots for an extended period of time, so Bobrovsky has tried to keep his reflexes sharp by catching tennis balls from an automatic serving machine. “You need somebody to shoot at you,” Bobrovsky said. “You need to see the puck, read the players and stuff like that. At this moment, I don’t have that possibility. I can only build my body to be strong, to be fast, to be quick.”
In a season where the possibility of resuming seems more remote with every passing day, Bobrovsky acknowledged that it has not been an easy one. The Panthers signed Bobrovsky because they thought he was the answer in goal, but the warts that were there before he and Quenneville showed up remain. The Panthers entered the break three points out of a playoff spot, 11th in the Eastern Conference in points, 10th in points percentage.
“It wasn’t an easy season for me,” Bobrovsky said. “New team, new coach, new surroundings. Everything is new. As far as the team standpoint, we’re fighting for the playoffs. We’re right in the mix. It’s all in our hands. The most important thing is the team success. We have the possibility to get into the playoffs and that’s the really important thing for me.”
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