In the final instalment of our "Season In Review," we’re going to take a look at the netminders for the 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets.
It was a frustrating season on that front. Sergei Bobrovsky struggled with injuries and form from the outset, Curtis McElhinney struggled in his appearances, and Anton Forsberg played a mere four games for the club. On the other hand, there was one positive revelation for the club: Joonas Korpisalo, rookie netminder, was the only man in the nets to post a winning record for the team this season.
Let’s take a look at their respective seasons.
Sergei Bobrovsky, by any standard you want to look at, had a bad season. The basic numbers: 37 starts, 15-19-1, .908 save percentage, 2.75 goals against average.
That, quite frankly, is not good enough. Sergei Bobrovsky is the second highest paid goaltender in the league, and a former Vezina Trophy winner. If the Blue Jackets are ever going to sniff the playoffs again, they’re going to need what’s gotten them there in the past- goaltending that can cover a lot of weak spots and make up for a porous defense. Bobrovsky has shown the ability to do just that in the past.
Bobrovsky has also shown that he is seriously injury prone, missing time for groin injuries in each of the past 3 seasons. Did you know that, in 2013-14, Bobrovsky played 58 games, his most ever? After that, he played 51, and 37 this year. During each successive season, his save percentage has trended down, and his goals against average has trended upward. That is an incredibly worrying trend for a team counting on him to be a Vezina caliber netminder year in and year out.
Bottom line for Bobrovsky: he has to put up the numbers that made him a Vezina winner next season. He absolutely has to. Otherwise, it may be time to start looking elsewhere for help. A $7.5 million dollar cap hit for an oft-injured goaltender with average numbers just isn’t going to cut it.
I don’t mean to sound overly critical of Sergei Bobrovsky. I like the guy a lot, and want to see him regain his form. But he has to be better. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If that means skipping IIHF Worlds or skipping the World Cup of Hockey, so be it. But he has to be ready to go for next season if this team is going to have any prayer of returning to the playoffs (my, how lofty our goals are now- finish 16th in a 30 team league).
Curtis McElhinney, but any metric, was bad this season. Very bad. The raw numbers: McElhinney went 2-7-3, with a .890 save percentage and a 3.31 goals against average. His goals against average puts him 81st out of 92 goalies who started at least one game in the NHL, and his save percentage puts him 77th out of 92. The only regular to finish behind McElhinney was Jonas Hiller, who appeared in 25 games for the Calgary Flames.
In all honesty, I expect we have seen Curtis McElhinney make his final appearance in a Blue Jackets sweater. He just can’t do it at the NHL level any more. It’s sad to say, because he’s been a serviceable backup to Bobrovsky before and is by all accounts a nice guy, but his age has just caught up with him.
So, if this is farewell, thanks for the services in relief, C-Mac.
Remember when Forsberg played 4 games for Columbus this season? Me either, really. I think a few were in rotation with Korpisalo around Christmastime. He earned his only NHL win on January 2nd in that 6-0 shocker over the Washington Capitals (remember that?), then lost to Minnesota, Carolina, and the Islanders before being sent down in mid-January. The raw numbers for Forsberg: 1-3-0, .907 save percentage, 3.03 goals against average.
It’s difficult to project a future for Forsberg. He’s 22-10 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.44 goals against average for Lake Erie this season, but he’s pretty clearly been passed in the organizational depth chart by Joonas Korpisalo. Forsberg is young, only 23 years old, and can still develop. But he must, at some point soon, take the next step.
He’s only won one NHL game in his time up, and has looked incredibly shaky. We shall see what happens with his future.
And now, we come to the bright spot in the net this season. The only goalie to post a winning record this season. Ladies and gentlemen, Joonas Korpisalo!
The raw numbers for Korpisalo: 16-11-4, a .920 save percentage, 2.60 goals against average. For a 21 year old rookie, these numbers are nothing to scoff at, particularly over such a large sample size. As he was here for over half the season, I’m willing to give a little more credence to his performance.
Korpisalo, with some coaching and development, can perhaps develop into a number one goaltender for the franchise in the future. His game needs work, do not get me wrong, particularly with his positioning. Numerous times this year, Korpisalo was able to recover to save shots based purely on his athleticism. While that’s great, it would be nice to harness that talent going forward and better position him in the net to prevent even more shots (and, while we are at it, don’t allow any more from the red line).
The Columbus Blue Jackets needs a better performance from their goalies next year. That is, in its entirety, the bottom line. If Columbus is going to go anywhere next year ("anywhere" meaning "get a lower seed in the playoffs" because the team is not going to contend for a division title), they’ll need more than a collective .909 save percentage and a 2.80 goals against average.
I’ll be honest- I’m not willing to count on a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky until he shows me he can do it. He hasn’t in nearly years, and that’s a disturbing trend. As a result, I am officially advocating splitting time between Bobrovsky and Korpisalo. I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to place the fate of the franchise and their potential playoff hopes (slim, but they’re there) in the hands of a guy who cannot stay healthy. I think a 60%-40% split is more than fair for the benchmark going forward. Bobrovsky doesn’t have to be the every game work horse that can potentially lead to injuries, and Korpisalo can continue his development. Personally, I think this is the best plan for the franchise moving forward.
A healthy Sergei Bobrovsky would go a long way toward making the playoffs. If Bobrovsky stays healthy and reverses the trend of the last few seasons, the Blue Jackets may once again find themselves competing for a playoff spot.
If not? It might be another battle for the best odds in the draft.