Ever since the untimely death of Pelle Lindbergh, it appears that the Philadelphia Flyers are always surrounded by a goalie controversy (except for the Ron Hextall years). After falling just short of winning the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, one would assume the Flyers finally had certainty in goal. No. Same story, different year/decade. With the injured Michael Leighton expected to miss a month of action, the Flyers once again have unresolved goaltending issues.
Brian Boucher did an excellent job for the Flyers last season during Leighton’s absence. While Leighton was injured, Boucher led the Flyers to an impressive run and clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. Boucher quickly became the NHL’s feel-good story. Sentimentalists cheered Boucher on with the hopes that he would lead the Flyers to the promised land; however, it was not to be. Leighton returned in goal, and the Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.
I assume Boucher will be named as the Flyers’ starter again during Leighton’s injury. With all due respect to Boucher, I think it would be prudent to keep 22 year-old Sergei Bobrovsky on the NHL roster to back up Boucher and share playing time with him.
No disrespect intended to Boucher or Leighton, but neither one of them are the long-term future of the Flyers. While Leighton is on the shelf, it would be prudent for the Flyers to play Bobrovsky as much as they can and split time with Boucher. Some fans might say “Give the kid a break, he’s only 22.” Or they may say “He’s playing in America for the first time!” While both claims are true, fans must remember that Bobrovsky isn’t a kid coming to the NHL from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Bobrovsky is a young goaltender coming off a successful season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
The talent Bobrovsky faced in the KHL was greater than any competition he would face in the American Hockey League (AHL). Bobrovsky performed admirably for Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the KHL last season, compiling a 2.72 GAA and .919 SV% in 35 games. Metallurg was a weak team with no title hopes whatsoever; therefore, Bobrovsky can’t be faulted for his nine wins and 22 losses. Bobrovsky’s .919 SV% was sixth among KHLers who played at least 30 games. Bobrovsky deserves every chance to compete against NHLers. Fellow Russian Nikolai Zherdev will likely be at arm’s length from Bobrovsky off the ice to help him acclimate to his surroundings.
The Flyers’ front office and coaching staff would be wise to give Bobrovsky every chance to play. They have an excellent collection of defensemen to make his job easier in net. Best-case scenario: Bobrovsky shines and shows signs of being the long-term answer to their goaltending question.
The opportunity to discover that possibility is too appealing to pass up; the Flyers should seize this opportunity in the hopes of finally finding stability in goal after the Lindbergh/Hextall eras. If Bobrovsky falters, then they will be back where they started: with unresolved goalie issues (which isn’t new territory for them).