This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…
When the Columbus Blue Jackets broke a four-season playoff drought in 2013-14, their starting goalie, Sergei Bobrovksy, was a big reason why. Bobrovsky started 58 games that season, going 32-20-5 with a .923 save percentage. He was their clear MVP.
Likewise, it was Bobrovsky’s struggles that played a major role in the Jackets’ disaster of a 2015-16 campaign. Not only did his save percentage fall to .908, a recurring groin injury limited him to just 37 appearances. Though young Joonas Korpisalo was a pleasant surprise in relief (16-11-4, .920), the Jackets have a lot of money invested in Bobrovksy. The 27-year-old currently has the second-highest cap among all NHL goalies, lower than only Henrik Lundqvist‘s.
And Bobrovksy is signed for three more seasons.
Let’s just say it was no huge surprise when the Jackets announced in July that they’d hired a “high performance” consultant by the name of Nelson Ayotte. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the idea in bringing Ayotte aboard was to “bridge the gap between the medical staff and the staff of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins, so that players don’t get injured and injured players get comprehensive treatment that gets them back on the ice quickly.”
As such, Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told the paper that he wanted to get Ayotte and Bobrovsky “on the same page” before the start of next season.
“I want them talking and reflecting ideas, making sure they each know what each other’s doing, and if there’s anything Nelson can do, he’s going to do it,” said Kekalainen. “Bobrovsky is one of the most important guys on that list. It’s a huge priority to make sure he’s going to stay healthy and perform at his best.”
Indeed it is. Because while there are certain teams that can still make the playoffs with mediocre (or even poor) goaltending, the Blue Jackets are not one of those teams. They gave up 31.1 shots per game last season, tied for the fourth most in the NHL. Unless they can dramatically improve their possession numbers in 2016-17, they’ve got little chance of making the postseason without consistently good play between the pipes.
“A common thread of every successful team in our league is outstanding goaltending,” Kekalainen said not long ago, “and we believe we have one of the best at the position in the world in Sergei Bobrovsky.”