FanPost

On Sergei Bobrovsky, sophomore slumps, and goalie market value

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(probably the best photo ever; image via @Sixers)

In February of last season, Eric gave us a bit of insight on what it is we could expect from that crazy rookie goalie we had named Sergei Bobrovsky. If you didn't read it at the time or you just don't remember it, I'd recommend going back through it again, because it was excellent. But basically, the main points I got out of it were that (a) goalies have talent levels that vary a whole lot on a season-by-season basis, meaning you can't look too much into the results from one season, and that (b) rookie goalies who have a lot of success don't usually match that success over the course of their careers, but they do typically go on to cement spots as #1 goalies and are at least moderately successful if not very successful. All of which was to say that he probably wasn't going to put up ridiculous numbers for the rest of his career, but there was a fair amount of optimism for him to be at least a decent starting goalie.

You might have noticed that a few things changed since then. The slow ending to last season and bad Game 2 that started the goalie carousel, the getting another guy to replace him, the OK start to this year, the red-hot stretch between Thanksgiving and mid-January, and now his post-All Star Break stretch of poor play that more or less allowed Ilya Bryzgalov to end any questions about his position as the team's #1 thanks to his recent record-setting run. We have no idea if Bob will get extended time in goal again or if he'll get traded or if he'll be with the team after next year or anything like that. Let's talk about Bob, shall we? Jump it.

Recent Struggles

First, let's talk about what he's done this season. I briefly summarized it above--up-and-down first month-and-a-half or so, very strong two months after, poor month-and-a-half since then--but graphs make everything better, so let's look at those. First: game-by-game save percentages this year, including all four of his relief appearances (11/23 @NYI, 12/10 v. TB, 12/17 v. BOS, 2/18 v. PIT).

[note: any numbers in this post as of Friday]

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Next: two lines on this graph. The blue line shows his total season save percentage and how it's changed through the year. The red line shows his five-game rolling average for the year--meaning, his save percentage over the span of the last five games. (The two, obviously, are identical for the first five games of the season, which is why you can't see a blue line until game 6). Take a look.

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So like I said, take a look at this graph in three different sections. Game 7 (a relief appearance in which he had 43 shutout minutes in a 4-3 OT win) and Game 8 (a very nice 3-1 win over Montreal on November 25) are where you really start to see that upward trend that lasts through all of his appearances into mid-January. That uber-hot stretch starts to fall off after Game 17, another very solid 3-2 win over the Islanders. You can see things slow down a bit at first, and then Game 20 (that awful NJ game in early February) is where things really start to fall in the sh*tter. Was that all Bob's fault? Not at all. The defense wasn't playing well and was injured. That said, though...that's pretty bad.

So how does his season compare to last year? Let's find out. Chart!

Sv% ES Sv% GAA GP GS QS RBS QS% RBS%
2010-11 0.915 0.923 2.59 54 52 34 6 65.4% 11.5%
2011-12 0.899 0.920 3.03 25 21 10 4 47.6% 19.0%

(For clarification: ESSv% = % of even-strength shots stopped, GP = games played, GS = games started, QS = quality starts (starts in which goalie allows 2 or fewer goals OR stops at least 91.3% of shots), QS% = quality starts/starts, RBS = really bad starts (starts in which goalie stops less than 85% of shots), RBS% = really bad starts/starts)

So. As a whole things have not gone well for Bob this season. Lower save percentage, in total and at ES, fewer quality starts, more really bad starts. Eep. He's had some good stretches, for sure, but if you're looking at his season numbers as a whole, they've dropped off.

Now, if you want some optimism, here it is: his even-strength save percentage, which is just a tiny bit below the league average of .921 and also just a hair ahead of Bryz's mark of .919, isn't that bad. You can argue whether or not that's actually a better predictor of talent than total save percentage, but even so, it is worth noting that Bob's numbers on special teams this year are (a) bad and (b) not likely to continue to be this bad. His save percentage while up 5-on-4 is an impossibly low .773 (5 shorties on 22 shots, at least 3 of which came on breakaways and/or penalty shots), which is the second-worst mark in the league behind only Martin Brodeur. His save percentage while on the penalty kill is .833 (20 goals on 120 shots), which is not quite as bad but still fairly close to the bottom of that leaderboard. While both of those are rather poor marks and they both need to be better, it's much more likely that they'll improve than it is that they'll stay at that level or drop any further. And as they improve, his save percentage will as well. So that's nice.

But as a whole, things aren't looking too hot. His one really really good stretch has been outweighed by an OK one and a really really bad one, and that's how he's sitting below the .900 Sv% mark right now. Call it a sophomore slump, call it inconsistency, call it bad defense in front of him, call it what you want. It's probably a combination of all of those things and more. But regardless, I think we all want him to be a bit better than this.

Should we be worried?

I'm not 100% sure, because you never can be with goalies. But I'm going to say probably not. A few reasons why.

First: goalies are streaky and unpredictable. If those charts above looked at all familiar, it's because Geoff made some that looked very similar a few months back when Bryz was going through a similar stretch. Then, remember that one of the main points of Eric's post mentioned at the beginning here was that we don't have nearly enough information on Bob to decide what his actual talent level is. He said that in February of last year, and while we have about 40 more games worth of info, we almost certainly still don't have enough info to figure it out.

Is he going to end up a Top-3 goalie in the NHL? Probably not. But is his current career save percentage of .910 going to go up? Probably. It took an unsustainably bad stretch (the one he's in right now) to drag him down to that point, we've only seen him in 79 NHL games and 73 starts, and we've seen extended stretches of brilliance from him before. It's reasonable to think he'll turn it around; we just have no idea how much.

But to just quell some possible further concerns, let's go back to Eric's article and look at that chart of good rookie goalies again, but changing the last two columns so we can really just focus on those first two years.

Player

Year 1 ESSV%

Year 2 ESSV%

Year 1 SV%

Year 2 SV%

Sergei Bobrovsky

.923

.920

.915

.899

Corey Crawford

.924

.913

.917

.901

Jimmy Howard

.925

.916

.924

.908

Pekka Rinne

.926

.925

.917

.911

Jonathan Quick

.926

.919

.914

.907

Steve Mason

.925

.911

.916

.901

Carey Price

.929

.920

.920

.905

Henrik Lundqvist

.929

.931

.922

.917

Kari Lehtonen

.927

.926

.906

.912

Andrew Raycroft

.941

.898

.926

.879

Evgeni Nabokov

.931

.929

.915

.918

Roberto Luongo

.930

.928

.920

.915

Martin Biron

.928

.905

.909

.909

[Ironically, Bob and Corey Crawford--last year's two rookies who made it onto that version of the chart--both dropped below the threshold of .925 that the chart originally used. But we'll look past that, because I think anyone would agree that the two of them had successful rookie years.]

Of the 13 guys listed, only two of them (Lehtonen and Nabokov) didn't see a decrease in his total save percentage between his first and second season. Only one of them (Lundqvist) didn't see a drop in his even-strength percentage. All of which is to say: it's happening to Bob, yes (much more pronounced in total save percentage than in ESSV%, but it's there in both places), but it's also happened to a host of other goalies. It's happened to each of last season's three best rookie goalies (Bob, Crawford, and James Reimer). Sophomore slumps do happen to these guys. Call it regression from guys playing over their head in their rookie year, call it teams getting the book on the goalies...but it happens. And again: that's a pretty fine-looking list of goalies (and Andrew Raycroft, whose drop from tremendous rookie season to horrendous sophomore season is almost amazing), so Bob's subpar year isn't THAT alarming of a sign.

The point, then: lots of good goalies can be very streaky and, especially in the case of young goalies, need some time to figure out what their actual talent is, meaning that you can't overreact to a bad year. Lots of good rookies have fallen off a bit in their second season before ultimately ending up at a career mark that usually sits a shade below the mark set in their rookie season. Bob might not end up being a superstar, but there's no reason to give up on him or anything. Not that I think anyone on BSH has done so. Maybe he isn't actually any good, and this recent stretch is him falling back to what his actual talent is. But we've got reason to think he'll turn it around.

Bob's value?

Now with all of that said...there's the elephant in the room. Or we'll call it the tiger. Whatever. Ilya Bryzgalov is signed to a very long contract, and unless something goes very very wrong with him in the next 15 months, he's still going to be the starting goaltender when Bob's entry-level contract runs out next summer. (For the purpose of this exercise, we'll ignore the possibility of an amnesty buyout or anything along those lines.) He'll be an RFA, of course, so if Bryz is still playing well, they could offer sheet Bob, see if anyone bites on him, take the draft picks in return if someone does, and hope that Hovinen or Kovar or Heeter or someone else TBD is ready to be the backup. They could also try to keep him as a backup, assuming he ends up performing fairly well between now and then.

Or they could trade him. It's a possibility that no one here is really happy with, since Bob is a favorite among most here, but it's something that has been addressed and absolutely could happen. People seem to have a lot of different opinions on how much he'd be worth in a trade. Some people probably think we can get the package that the Capitals got for Semyon Varlamov. Some people think we can get a solid prospect and/or a pick. Some people have no idea.

So I decided to look at trades in the past few years that have centered around goaltenders. There aren't many of them, and none of them are perfect comparisons to Bob and our current situation, but they're worth looking at. I looked at two things for the goalies traded, as listed here: their career save percentage at the time of the trade, and their pedigree as a prospect based on their evaluation on hockeysfuture.com (Bob, for instance, is currently at .910 and was an 8.0B at HF). So with that said, here are all of those trades since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

  • Ben Bishop (February 2012; .896 Sv% in 13 games at time of trade, lower prospect pedigree than Bob at 7.0C): 2nd round pick
  • Marc Cheverie (September 2011; no NHL experience, lower prospect pedigree at 7.0D): mediocre prospect Justin Bernhardt
  • Semyon Varlamov: (July 2011; .917 Sv% in 59 games, slightly higher prospect pedigree than Bob at 8.5B): 1st and 2nd round pick
  • Al Montoya (February 2011; .925 Sv% in 5 games, lower prospect pedigree at 6.5D): 6th round pick
  • Dwayne Roloson (January 2011; a bit different of a case): middling prospect Ty Wishart
  • Henrik Karlsson (June 2010; no NHL experience, no real good prospect evaulation on him but vibe I got from research was that he seems like an average backup and nothing more): 6th round pick
  • Joey Macdonald (March 2010; .900 Sv% in 66 games, not a prospect at the time): 7th round pick
  • Vesa Toskala for Curtis McElhinney: lol
  • Kari Lehtonen (February 2010; .912 Sv% in 204 games; had extremely high prospect pedigree but wasn't really a prospect at the time of the trade): somewhat highly-ranked prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick
  • Jean-Sebastian Giguere for Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake: more lol

OK, then. A lot of those are pretty clear-cut throw-away trades for backup goalies, which doesn't paint a great picture as far as potential returns go. But they also aren't really fair comparisons to Bob, who ideally would be brought in somewhere with a chance to be a starter and would bring in a higher return as such. In that case, there are three in particular I wanted to look at.

--The Varlamov trade, for a good young goaltender who had very good numbers but had never started more than 30 games in a season, was fairly widely panned as an overpay on Colorado's part.
--Bishop may end up vying for a starter's job once Anderson leaves Ottawa. But in any event, he's a guy who I've seen pegged as a potentially very good goalie, and a second-rounder there seems like a good price.
--The Lehtonen trade is an interesting one, and maybe the best comparison we have here. Vishnevskiy was apparently one of Dallas' best prospects at the time of the trade (at a modest ranking of 7.0D) but he seems to have washed out and Lehtonen has been better for Dallas than he was for Atlanta.

So a lot of this depends on how Bob's numbers/performance changes between now and whenever a trade would be (probably either this summer, next trade deadline, or next summer). I don't think that he'll bring in a first- and a second- round pick unless he just lights it all on fire between now and then. I could see him bringing in some sort of high pick, like the Bishop trade did. I could see him bringing in a middle-round pick and an OK prospect, like the Lehtonen trade did. But the point here may be that trades like a young-goalie-for-______ trades don't happen that often, so we don't have much of a precedent to work off of. Or maybe it's to say that it's more likely than we realize that Bob will still be here after next summer. Who knows.

Fortunately, some friends of ours have the rich man's version of this problem that they're going to have to confront this offseason. Vancouver, of course, has a very good goalie signed to a ridiculous contract and a very good rookie who's going to be a restricted free agent in three months. While I don't think it's a stretch to say that Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider are definitely better than Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky, respectively, there are some fairly obvious parallels and what happens with Schneider could end up setting a precedent for deals like this. (To a lesser extent, the Thomas/Rask situation in Boston this summer will also help add to the picture, though the way Thomas has fallen off a cliff recently you've gotta think they'll lock Rask up.)

Conclusion

Sergei Bobrovsky has had his ups and downs this year and has shown brilliance at times, but as a whole his performance has been down from his rookie year and as a whole he's been a bit disappointing. However, several goalies who were very good when they were rookies dropped off in their second season before ultimately rebounding and having careers as #1 goalies ranging from solid to excellent. Even in his second year, it's well too early to guarantee anything about Bob's true talent level either way. It's not fair to say he's been exposed as a bad goalie or anything, but at the same time, everyone who's convinced he's going to be incredible and we should toss Bryz to the scrap heap for him (contract arguments notwithstanding, of course) may also want to pump the brakes on that a bit.

He will probably improve his current save percentage of .899 in however many starts he has the rest of the way, and his current career save percentage of .910 will probably go up a bit as well in that time as well as between now and when his contract runs out next summer. What happens between now and then will very much help decide what the Flyers do with him (offer sheet him, trade him, etc.) We can guess that he'll bring in a decent return (an OK prospect and a middle-round pick, a single higher pick), but we'll know a lot more this summer when we see how things go down in Vancouver.

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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