I cannot imagine what it is like to be a professional athlete in a contract year.
Not only is there pressure on you to help your team win a championship, but you also need to have a good year in general in order to get the big money contract you crave. When you put these two things together, you end up having a player who has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
In the NHL, one such player is Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goaltender, came into the year wanting to both win his first Cup and show the rest of the league that he is worth spending a lot of money on.
Unfortunately for Bobrovsky, things haven’t gone exactly as planned this season. Yes, the team has had a good season (25-15-3), but Bobrovsky certainly has not played up to his capabilities.
A perfect example of this came in his last game against the Tampa Bay Lightning back on January 8 in a losing effort. Bobrovsky got pulled after allowing four goals on 15 shots and when team head coach John Tortorella took him out, Bobrovsky apparently was not very gracious about it with the team’s head coach.
That leads us to January 10. On this day when the team was getting set to take on the Nashville Predators, the club announced that Bobrovsky would not be on the roster for the game due to the following as stated on the team’s web site:
“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture,” said 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 tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”
Clearly, something is amiss with both Bobrovsky and the club. For starters, he has not had a great season this year.
Bobrovsky is currently 18-13-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage, and two shutouts. Furthermore, he has lost three of his last five starts and for a team that is in an unbelievably tight Metropolitan Division, that is not good enough for this hockey club.
Secondly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bobrovsky has been distracted all year long due to his impending UFA status at the end of the season. He’s probably been thinking about whether or not the team will trade him, what teams will be interested in signing him in the off-season, and what will ultimately be the best move for him as he looks to win his first Cup.
When it comes to his UFA status, the team has been negotiating with Bobrovsky for the last several months and according to hockey scribe Kevin Allen of USA Today, the two sides are not close to negotiating an extension. With the trade deadline coming up on February 25, the team needs to figure out whether they will keep him and risk losing him as an UFA in the off-season or if they will trade him in order to get something of value in return.
Lastly, it appears that the relationship between Bobrovsky and Tortorella isn’t good anymore. When Bobrovsky was pulled in his last game against the Lightning, him and Tortorella had a heated exchange and it should also be noted that after the team got knocked out of the first round in the last two postseasons, Tortorella alluded to the fact that part of it was because of Bobrovsky’s inconsistent play between the pipes.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. If this team wants to win a Cup, Bobrovsky is the best chance they have to accomplish that goal because their back-up, Joona Korpisalo, really is not all that good (He is 7-2-2 with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage.
On the other hand, if they keep him, they will more than likely lose him in the off-season when he goes and signs with another team. As such, this puts both the Blue Jackets and Bobrovsky in a very difficult position.
No matter what happens, it’s safe to say that the relationship between Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets is headed towards a breakup.
*Photo: Fox Sports