With the news of an injury to Michael Leighton, a lot of people are clamoring for 22-year-old goalie prospect Sergei Bobrovsky to take his place on the Flyers roster to start the season, should a replacement become necessary.
While Bobrovsky continues to live up to all of the hype this preseason, creating a buzz unlike any young goalie prospect we've seen in years, bringing him up to the big club now would be a mistake. It's not the right move, regardless of what happens with the Flyers goaltending situation over the next few weeks and no matter what he does over the next two weeks.
Bobrovsky is still very young. Yes, he's played in the top league in Russia in parts of four seasons now, and while his time there was just as impressive as his short time here in North America has been this summer and early fall, to suggest he's ready for A) the best players in the world and B) the rigors and expectations of an NHL season is just silly.
After the jump, several reasons why Bobrovsky needs to start this season in Adirondack, not Philadelphia, regardless of how he plays in the preseason.
- Money: Paramount of anything else in the salary cap era is the concern of money, and with just enough wiggle room under that cap to survive should injury replacements become necessary during the season, they simply cannot afford to add Bobrovsky to the list.
For starters, the only way they'd be able to afford him is if they sent Leighton to LTIR. If Leighton is only out for a week or two, the numbers just won't work without several other moves being made. Believe it or not, Bob's $1.75 million cap hit means he's more expensive than any other goalie the Flyers have under contract. He's $200k more expensive than Leighton.
But what if Leighton's injury becomes so severe that he needs to go on LTIR? Not that there's any evidence to suggest that may be the case at this point, mind you, but if he does, the Flyers could obviously just replace him with Bob's salary, right?
I'm not so sure about that. I mean, they could, but they might hamstring themselves as a result. With only $877k in room under the cap as of now, the Flyers can't really afford to add even $200k in salary. What if they need to add more than $600k in salary at some point? They'd be screwed.
- Adjusting to North America: This one is pretty simple, but Bobrovsky has played a total of five periods of NHL game action on this continent. After playing on the large rink in Europe his entire life, without a goaltender coach at his disposal, there's going to be a lengthy adjustment period, regardless of how comfortable he may look now in the preseason. Bob's also played no more than 35 games in a season. Ever.
- Expectations: Piggybacking off of that last reason, there will be things he needs to work on. It's inevitable. He needs time to make adjustments and get used to a new style of hockey, and he needs to have as little pressure as possible on him when he's going through this process. The Flyers want to win the Stanley Cup this season, and when you combine that with the lengthy history of goaltending hell in this town, it's just not a good situation to throw a rookie goalie into.
If Bobrovsky falters, which he inevitably will at some point during his first season in North America, the boo birds will quickly come out if he's in Philadelphia. "Yet another goalie that can't handle it, that's just a tease," they'll say. That likely won't be the truth, but the backlash will almost certainly effect the young Russian mentally.
- Other options: It's not like Bobrovsky is the only option should Leighton wind up sitting for a lengthy period of time. Some might say that Johan Backlund's hip injury would force the Flyers hand, making them bring Bob up whether they want to or not. That's just not the truth.
Should Leighton be out long enough to go on LTIR, there are a few veteran options in the free agent market that would be much cheaper than either he or Bobrovsky would be. The two names that immediately stick out on an admittedly short UFA goalie list are Manny Legace and Wade Dubielewicz. Other guys, like Jose Theodore and Vesa Toskala, are either too expensive or too... um, bad at hockey AND expensive, to be considered.
No, they aren't impressive options, but they would just be temporary fill-in guys that would mostly ride the pine. In any event, they're cheap and much better choices than throwing a 22-year-old rookie in before he's ready.
So, why is the AHL the perfect remedy for all of these issues?
For starters, the expectations in Glens Falls are nowhere near what they are in Philadelphia. With all due respect to Phantoms fans up in the Adirondacks, it just doesn't matter as much in terms of the big picture if Bobrovsky goes through his inevitable growing pains up there. In fact, it's greatly preferred.
Secondly, he'll get to experience the rigors of an 82 game (more, perhaps, with playoffs) schedule in the AHL. He would likely split time with Nic Riopel there, but even if he plays only half the games, the experience will be fantastic and he'll still play more hockey than he ever has in his life.
Finally, Bob makes $67,500 as an AHL player, and while that sucks for him, it keeps the Flyers from paying him the big bucks before he's truly earned it.
None of this is to say we shouldn't be excited over what we've seen from Bob this preseason. Nobody can deny he's been impressive, and the fact that he's basically been self-coached his whole career until now? Well, damn, we might in fact have a gem.
For that very reason, we need to make sure he's treated properly and not rushed at all. We want him to become the best goalie he possibly can become, and the only way that's going to happen is if he takes it slow.
The Flyers can get by without Bobrovsky this season (and yes, that means they could win the Cup). If they want to protect his potential, in fact, they have to get by without him.