How can we talk about players who impacted the club over the last 20 years and not talk about Bob? He’s easily earned his spot in the annals of CBJ history; his lengthy tenure spanned 2011-2019, seven seasons worth of holding down the net in Nationwide Arena and beyond - 21,801 minutes of on-ice time for the CBJ, since I’ve got some time on my hands and did the math.
So what is his legacy?
“The winner of the Vezina Trophy, given to the top goalie in the NHL, in 2013 and 2017, Sergei Bobrovsky was the first goalie in Blue Jackets history to have back-to-back 30-win seasons when he won 32 in 2013-14 and 30 in 2014-15. In 2016-17, he went 41-17-5, setting a Columbus Blue Jackets record for victories, and had seven shutouts.
He also holds Blue Jackets season records for lowest goals-against average (2.00), highest save percentage (.932), each set in 2012-13, and once made a team-record 52 saves during a 4-3 shootout win against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 4, 2014.”
The 32-year-old departed Columbus for the warmer climate and bigger dollar signs of southern Florida. I mean, who can blame him? Well, a lot of people, actually. Even though the writing was on the wall, CBJ fans were pretty cross when he left, the hurt coupled further by the equivalently-willing departure of his BFF, Artemi Panarin.
But I’ll give him credit where it’s due; Bob was never anything less than transparent about his intentions. Here’s a snippet from one of his first interviews after he accepted his $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers:
“I told the management after the 2017-18 season that I wouldn’t stay at the club, they didn’t react to that. On the contrary, they began to talk more about contract extension. Of course, you might think why I created the problem for myself by informing everyone in advance about the solution. But, on the other hand, the person I am, I honestly informed about my plans and did not play any backstage games. It would be harder for me to look in the mirror if I told everyone that I would stay first, and at the end I was leaving.”
Plus, it was no secret that he and Tortorella didn’t always get along - there was an incident in his final season (January 2019) where he was benched for a whole game after heading straight to the locker room instead of remaining on the bench after he’d been pulled from an ongoing game.
Again, Bob’s general candor in this post-CBJ interview gave us a little glimpse into their relationship:
“Torts has his advantages and disadvantages. He is what he is... impulsive. He says what he thinks. In his position, he behaves as he considers correct. There were moments when, in the regular season, he praised. There were moments when he criticized. He could do it at a press conference or in the locker room with the team. I did not agree with his opinion and because of this we often had cheerful conversations on high tones.”
Okay, so that’s how it ended. But how did it start? Bob brought some real regularity and personality to his role, that’s for sure. Before his 374-game tenure with the club, the only real regulars were Marc Denis (2001-06, 266 games played), Steve Mason (2009-13, 232 games played), Pascal Leclaire (2004-09, 125 games played) and now Joonas Korpisalo (2016-present, 127 games played).
For me personally, Bob was always one of my favorite players to observe and photograph. Hockey goalies are weird dudes, and he had a lot of quirks and rituals that were fun to track. It was also clear that the other players got along with him, and his friendship with Artemi Panarin was fun to watch. He also has a great Instagram account! His wife Olga is beautiful and their vacation photos are always jealousy-inducing.
Bob was a great foil to Panarin, and vice versa - while Panarin was more closed-off to the media and with his post-CBJ intentions, Bob never kept secrets or said one thing while he meant another.
While his play was not always consistent, and it felt like when it rained, it poured (as far as him getting scored on) - he could be consistently counted on to be himself, advocate for himself, and I felt like he genuinely gave his best. He certainly elevated the CBJ to be a team that consistently made the playoffs when he was their goalie, as opposed to the first decade of the franchise.
Will he win the Stanley Cup he wants with the Florida Panthers? If the 2019-20 season was any indicator, they won’t in their current shape - we’ll have to see where that lands. But will Bob be happy to finish out his career in sunny, warm Miami? For his sake, I hope so - I’m a Bob fan for life.