In the wake of the chatter about the Flyers trying to sign Bryzgalov, Bobrovsky is not forgotten. He has been mentioned by Holmgren as part of a dream goalie tandem for the team. That’s nice. If Holmgren signs Bryzgalov, I hope he trades Bobrovsky.
Ryan Bright argues that keeping Bobrovsky would be consistent with the trend of having two stellar goalies instead of one. The argument is, in principle, perfectly sound. But I don’t think it applies to Bobrovsky and Bryzgalov.
Bob is the most promising goalie signed by the Flyers right now. I don’t think I would put him on a par with Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Bernier, or Cory Schneider. Not yet. He may well rise to that level, and soon, if he has a chance to develop. That means playing, a lot.
Bob can’t be sent to the Phantoms to play and develop without being snapped off the waiver wire. If he remains with the Flyers, he probably has to stay in Philly.
So, if Bob were to be assigned the role of Ilya Bryzgalov’s backup, would he be any good at it?
What does a backup do? Well, he jumps in mid-game if the starter has to come out or if the team needs a kick in the ass. It seems that some are better as backups than starters, that some actually play better when they did not expect to play. The backup goalie role is often filled by the second best goalie on the team. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a talent in itself, this playing cold at irregular intervals. Considering how many goalies play better with a lot of starts, to do the opposite must be a challenge.
The concept of the goalie tandem is different. Some say it puts both goalies in a position to compete for playing time, and that this elevates their play. In theory, both would play quite a bit, divide the games almost evenly. By all accounts, if you want both goalies playing well, you need to play them. Few teams really do this. They all tend to ride the hot hand, which gets hotter with more play.
What kind of backup would Bob be? Would he be the other part of the tandem or the guy who has to play cold? That would depend entirely on Bryzgalov. You don’t bet the bank on someone and not use him in whatever way suits him best. How often was Bryzgalov pulled this season? Once? How many games did he start? 72. I’m not saying he can’t adapt to a lighter schedule. I’m also not going to assume that he would play as well if the Flyers cut his workload significantly.
How has Bob played cold? He did fine in a game or two during the playoffs. He didn’t get much chance to jump in during the regular season. Many were critical of Laviolette for sitting Bob instead of using him as backup for Boucher in the playoffs. He did finally use him to backup, but only after Leighton was injured. I suspect that Laviolette believed Bobrovsky wasn’t ready to be useful in that role.
What if he starts some games to take the load off of Bryzgalov? How does Bob do only playing a few games here and there? Again, we don’t really know. We do know that he played a lot of games in fairly long stretches during his first NHL season. He was quite good under those circumstances.
There is a lot of reason to assume that Bob could develop into one of the better goalies in the league. Also reasonable to assume, he will have a hard time developing at all if he is left to wither on the bench.
I speculated some time ago that he has uncommon mental discipline. He might develop pretty well on practice and study alone. It’s just a whole lot to ask.
It would be better for Bob’s development to be traded than to play behind Bryzgalov. If the Flyers sign Bryzgalov, they will likely have some holes to fill outside the crease. Bob could be worth more in trade for that than he will be as a backup, so trading him might be better for the Flyers too.
I believe that Bobrovsky has an exciting future in the NHL, just not behind Bryzgalov. And as of now, I don’t believe Bob would be better than any other backup, and he might not even be as good as most veterans. If the Flyers sign Bryzgalov, it is likely to cause an upheaval in the roster. Among those casualties will be Bobrovsky, either by trade or by failure to thrive.