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Sergei Bobrovsky and the ghosts of trades past

Sergei Bobrovsky's been pretty great for Columbus lately. So Paul Holmgren screwed up by trading him, right? Not really.

HA! Can't believe those losers actually traded you, Bob.
HA! Can't believe those losers actually traded you, Bob.
Kirk Irwin

In the discussion thread during Sunday night's win against Buffalo, an argument of sorts took place about Luke Schenn, his play so far this year, and the trade of James van Riemsdyk that brought him here. There were a lot of relevant points brought up, i.e. the fact that Schenn's advanced metrics this year have quietly been very good vs. the notion that he seems to make rather visible screw-ups fairly often and that his career as a whole hasn't been good. (All true statements, by the way.) Feel free to read through it here.

But the crux of the argument -- at least in my opinion, and it's the way a lot of JvR/Schenn discussions have gone this season -- came down to how you evaluate a trade: in hindsight, or based on the outlook at the time of the trade. And while neither of those options look great right now for the Flyers (you may have heard that van Riemsdyk is doing OK for himself in Toronto), I'd say the hindsight option looks a lot better.

Based on JvR and Schenn's values at the time, the trade was fairly horrendous (the Flyers sold low on JvR and didn't get nearly enough in return), whereas now you could make a case that Schenn's done a decent job, and that -- combined with the play of other Flyers wingers like Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds -- makes it easier to take.

So let's flip that argument on its head for a second and talk about the trade the Flyers made the day before the JvR/Schenn trade.

Right after Saturday's brutal Flyers loss in Boston, the Blue Jackets won 3-0 over the Red Wings, and Sergei Bobrovsky finally -- on his 93rd try -- collected his first career shutout. The day after, he managed to help the Blue Jackets to a shootout win against those same Red Wings, and Bob continued what's been a bit of a tear for him lately. Oh, and he was named NHL First Star of the Week this Monday ahead of...Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter. (We're having a great week here in Philly, aren't we?)

Since the Flyers are in a bit of a rough patch right now, and our own goalie's been no small part of it, some comparisons (and subsequent buyer's remorse) have seemed to pop up among Flyers fans. Over on the Columbus end, Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch summed it up as such:

Hurts, doesn't it? Bob, after a rough first few games of the season, has been on fire in his last eight games or so, while Ilya Bryzgalov has pretty much done the opposite. So it seems like there's been a bit of an outcry along the lines of PAUL HOLMGREN HOW COULD YOU HAVE TRADED BOB AND KEPT BRYZ WE ALL KNEW BOB WAS SO MUCH BETTER SHOULD OF KEPT.

OK. For one, let's not address the fact that Bob has started out well before tailing off a bit post-All Star break in both of his NHL seasons (which admittedly isn't an issue in a 48-game season), and that Bryz has in the past few seasons done much better post-All Star break (which, well...crap.) And let's also ignore the fact that before his current eight-game stretch of awesomeness, Bob was being outplayed by Steve freaking Mason.

Let's instead talk about evaluating trades in hindsight, because that's an actual productive discussion.

Sergei Bobrovsky was a decent goalie in Philadelphia. He had two seasons, one as a starter and one as a backup, and in both of them he started out very well before declining after the All-Star break. His save percentage in those two years here was .909 -- slightly below league average (.913) in the same timespan (though he gets bonus points for playing behind this defense, right?). Still, not bad for an undrafted free agent plucked from Russia.

Now, to turn that into three draft picks -- a second rounder and two fourth-rounders -- the way that the Flyers did? On the surface, that's a pretty nice move, especially given that we knew he was probably on his way out. As Travis wrote a couple of weeks before the trade happened:

If the Flyers aren't going to use his services to their potential, it makes sense to get something for him ... you know, wasted assets and all of that. If they're not going to play him more than 20 to 30 games a season, they should get something for him. It's good for everybody: Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers, the team getting Bob and Bob himself.

And then, after it happened:

Bobrovsky has a bright future but he's never going to get a chance to start in Philadelphia with Ilya Bryzgalov locked up for nine years. If you're a Bob fan (and many of us are), that's disheartening, but he deserves the chance to spread his wings in the NHL. Going to Columbus gives him that chance -- and hopefully that franchise doesn't kill his career.

As Geoff summed it up in the comments: "The Flyers just traded an undrafted goalie with a career 0.909 save percentage into a 2nd rounder and two 4ths. That's good asset management." And the general tone of the comments, despite some sadness at having lost Bob, was in agreement.

That's the Flyers fan's perspective, at least -- that we got a pretty good deal for Bob. Think we're the only ones who thought that? Let's head across I-70 and see what they thought in Columbus at the time of the trade. From Blue Jackets blog The Cannon:

My first thoughts are that Howson has overpayed for Bobrovsky, but given the fact that the Lightning recently shipped a pair of second round picks to Nashville for Anders Lindback, it puts things into perspective. Lindback and Bobrovsky are both untested backups, but Bob had the added benefit of essentially being a number one in his rookie year.

At this point my main concern is that the Jackets are done upgrading the goaltending position. Bobrovsky just isn't a number one to me- the thought of a Bob/Mason combo will not help me sleep better at night.

A bit uncertain, to say the least. Now? To no one's surprise, they're a fan of his. It was a gamble, and one that has (so far) has worked out pretty well for them. (Good for them, by the way. God knows they deserve it after the past couple of years their entire franchise's existence.)

And at the risk of beating a dead horse here, I spent some time leafing through Google, trying to find reactions to the trade from neutral parties/writers. Here are three, from three pretty well-respected hockey writers. I won't box-quote all of them because I've done enough of that in this post, but if you read through them the consensus is somewhere between "Columbus overpaid" and "it's a decent move for Columbus, because that's what the market for a young goalie is, but they still gave up a lot." I couldn't find one article that said "this was clearly a bad move by the Flyers" or anything even close to that. If you can, feel free to show it to me.

In any case, I think you get the point. Holmgren took advantage of a bull market for teams with decent young goalies and got a nice return on an asset that didn't really have great value. Right now, it doesn't look as nice, but it's hardly fair to criticize Holmgren for making a move that most agreed was a pretty good one at the time.

Yes, you can criticize Holmgren for making the moves -- i.e. signing Bryzgalov to a billion year contract with a no-move clause -- that put him in a position where he had to deal Bob in the first place. And yes, I think there's a proper balance between outcome and thought process when it comes to evaluating trades (which is why we need to see how Anthony Stolarz, Taylor Leier, and, uh, Simon Gagne work out for the Flyers before we can really evaluate it). But don't bash the guy because we're all angry at the Flyers for playing badly while Bobrovsky spent eight games playing out of his mind.