Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy and EA Sports NHL14 cover (Photo by Clint Trahan)

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky went from backup in Philadelphia to the NHL’s bets in Columbus. (Photo by Clint Trahan)

Much will be made of Sergei Bobrovsky’s journey from unwanted backup in the goaltending graveyard that is Philadelphia, to the NHL’s best goaltender in Columbus after being announced as the lopsided winner of the Vezina Trophy on Saturday afternoon. But anyone who wonders what might have been had “Bob” remained with the Flyers isn’t paying enough attention to the significant changes he made after leaving.

Bobrovsky the Vezina Trophy winner looks a lot different than Bobrovksy the backup.

The biggest difference was getting Bobrovksy to play bigger, especially in his butterfly, than he did during his first two NHL seasons with the Flyers. The 24-year-old Russian is finally playing up to his 6-foot-2 frame, a measurement that seemed hard to believe when you watched him hunched over at the waist and sitting back on his heels more during two promising but inconsistent seasons as an undrafted free agent signing in Philadelphia. He’s taller now through the thighs and at the waist, especially in his butterfly, one of several small but significant adjustments that started with Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark.

“I can tell you I try to be bigger – bigger in my butterfly,” Bobrovksy told InGoal Magazine late in the regular season, trying to bridge any language gap with a locker room demonstration, lifting at the waist and pulling his shoulders back.

2012-2013 Vezina Trophy Voting

Total Points (1st-2nd-3rd place votes)

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ 110 (17-8-1)
2. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR 55 (3-12-4)
3. Antti Niemi, S.J. 46 (6-4-4)
4. Craig Anderson, OTT 22 (3-1-4)
5. Tuukka Rask, BOS 12 (0-3-3)
6. Jimmy Howard, DET 9 (0-0-9)
7. Ray Emery, CHI 6 (1-0-1)
8. Corey Crawford, CHI 5 (0-1-2)
9. Jonas Hiller, ANA 3 (0-1-0)
10. Niklas Backstrom, MIN 1 (0-0-1)
Carey Price, MTL 1 (0-0-1)

(Yes, Ray Emery got more first-place votes than playing partner Corey Crawford from the NHL GMs)

The changes paid off. Bobrovsky finished 21-11-6, with a 2.00 goals-against average, .932 save percentage, four shutouts, and 17 of 30 first-place votes from the General Managers who decide the Vezina Trophy. Bobrovsky finished the Vezina voting with 110 points overall in a landslide win, double the total for New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist (55 points and three first-place votes), and San Jose Sharks’ standout Antti Niemi (46 points and six first-place votes).

The dominant showing was even more impressive because Bobrovsky, who won eight of his final nine starts, came up just short of leading Columbus to the playoffs, finishing tied for eighth only to lose the tie breaker to the Minnesota Wild. He becomes the first goalie since to win the Vezina without making the playoffs since the award went to a vote in 1981-82 (it was decided by which team allowed the fewest goals prior to that), and the only goalie to do it since Roy Worters of New York Americans won without making the playoffs in 1930-31.

The win was the result of a lot of hard work.

Sent home with more than 100 pages of goaltending instruction after his pre-lockout sessions with Clark in Columbus, Bobrovsky’s evolution continued with Finnish goaltending coach Jussi Parkkila in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout.

With his chest more upright, Bobrovsky’s hands are now more out in front of him, rather than pulled back in relation to a forward-pitched torso, allowing him to make cleaner glove saves and steer pucks better with his blocker.

“When you are upright you can see your hands, and when you are down it’s tough to see your hands,” Bobrovsky said, holding his hands up beside his head for effect. “It’s much easier this way.”

There were other adjustments. Bobrovsky is playing a more neutral initial depth that allows him to beat passes with his quick feet without having to make the huge lateral pushes that lowered his center of gravity in Philadelphia, and didn’t give up a single net play goal all season after switching from the traditional VH, or one-pad down, to the Reverse, with the post-side pad down.

InGoal will take a closer look at those and other changes that helped Bobrovksy win the Vezina in our upcoming edition of the magazine. As for why this is likely just the start of a rise to the top, and not another one-off like Steve Mason’s Rookie of the Year award in Columbus, Clark points to Bobrovsky’s work ethic, which never wavered through two up-and-down seasons in Philadelphia.

“If you look up the things you expect in an elite goaltender — work ethic, compete level, athleticism, all the intangibles of the position – Bob has them all to the nth degree,” Clark said. “He is constantly seeking to improve his technique, his work off the ice in terms of conditioning, even his equipment. His entire day is focused on being the best goaltender he can be.”

Now all the Blue Jackets need to do is re-sign Bobrovksy, a restricted free agent this summer who has reportedly received offers upwards of $10-million per season from the KHL, and give him a chance to keep getting better – and maybe add another Vezina.

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5 Responses to From Backup to Best: Bobrovksy wins Vezina

  1. Paul Ipolito says:

    Well deserved. I hope he avoids the fate of two other young goalies who have played in Columbus.

  2. Matt in Montreal says:

    It’s official, Philly is goalie-cursed!

  3. Tartan69 says:

    Perhaps Jeff Reese has been the issue all along?

  4. Hoser says:

    They aren’t cursed, Bobrovsky did not magically find his game, he systematically changed it with the help of a strong goalie coach, which Philly didn’t have. When faced with the decision of trading an elite talent who needed coaching, or getting rid of the coach who couldn’t fix him, they decided to trade the talent. But people who know nothing about the game or position will continue to conveniently fall back on the idea that Philadelphia is doomed to have bad goaltending, and ignore the actual problem.

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