Sergei Bobrovsky has revealed that there was never a chance he’d re-sign in Columbus.
‘Bob,’ who was the biggest goalie on the free-agent market before he was snatched up by the Florida Panthers on a mammoth seven-year, $70M deal on July 1, told Sport24’s Daria Tuboltseva on Wednesday that he needed a change of scenery.
He also stated that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen knew his intentions a year before he was set to hit unrestricted free agency.
“They didn’t act,” Bobrovsky said. “On the contrary, they started to speak about a contract extension more frequently. I am that type of person. I made my plans known and didn’t play any games (with the organization). It would be much harder for me to look at the mirror in case I’d say to everyone that I’m staying and then leave.”
Kekalainen went all in at the trade deadline, electing to keep both Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin (along with selling a pile of futures for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel — both who also left the team in free agency) for a Stanley Cup run that would ultimately end in Round 2 against the Boston Bruins.
Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy recipient, went into detail about a tumultuous final season, his last of seven with the Blue Jackets.
“I was suspended by the team, there were some conflicts in the team, a lot of meetings and some of them just because of me,” he said. “I didn’t feel myself comfortable. And still, the Jackets tried and tried to extend me all season long.”
According to Bob, the team went so far as to offer him a psychologist.
“It was weird because I have one since being 21 year old,” he said. “When your own team criticizes you and isn’t sure in you can’t like it, it’s awkward.”
[Panthers take huge risk on Bobrovsky: 7 years, $70M]
The mental grind got to Bob, who posted a .913 save percentage and nine shutouts during the regular season.
“It was [tough mentally], especially at the start of the season. The atmosphere wasn’t really pleasant, there were conflicts inside the locker room, a lot of team meetings, [my] suspension, few other things. But as a professional, I was working hard to stay focused and win every game.”
One incident, in particular, played out in the public sphere.
On Jan. 8, the Blue Jackets lost 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bob was pulled in the third period after allowing four goals on 19 shots. He left the bench and didn’t dress for the team’s next game.
“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture,” Kekalainen would say via a press release from the team. “An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”
The wide-ranging interview also delved into Bobrovsky’s relationship with Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella, one he categorized as up and down.
“Torts has his pluses and minuses,” Bobrovsky said. “He is what he is. Impulsive. Says what he thinks. Does what he thinks is right. There were days when he was complimentary during the regular season, but there were also days when he might criticize during a press conference or in the locker room. I [didn’t always agree] with his opinion and because of that we had multiple [heated] conversations.
“But he has many pluses too. The team started to play better after his arrival. He installed discipline. He demanded the maximum from each player. We started to make the playoffs regularly. He’s also a skilled psychologist and a very strong motivator.”
Now 31, Bobrovsky revealed that he had other offers — good offers — but said Florida was his first option.
“It’s a good young team, solid management, a very good coach just arrived,” he said. “I believe I have a chance to win the Stanley Cup with this team. Plus living conditions, you play a winter sport in the South, with palm trees and ocean around you.”
MORE: Bobrovsky says he came to Florida to win the Stanley Cup
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck