Michael Arace commentary: Bobrovsky mitigates lost chance in draft lottery

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — the guys who win Stanley Cups — are not found on the waiver wire, they are found at the top of the draft. The Blue Jackets could have had such a player, but they blew it. They won too many games this season.

As recently as March 10, the Jackets had the worst record in the NHL and were in prime position to win the draft lottery. Seth Jones, anyone? Nathan MacKinnon? Kiss them goodbye.

The Jackets closed with a 19-5-5 run. They went from the top of the draft lottery to the bottom. Last night, it became official. The best of the Jackets’ three first-round picks will be No. 14 overall.

They won too many games — but not enough to make the playoffs. They lost coming and going, the devil’s advocate might say.

This is the flip side: The Jackets might have found a No. 1 goaltender. That is something tangible, something well beyond captivating Columbus, or, for that matter, scaring Detroit.

The Jackets blew the draft lottery, but if Sergei Bobrovsky is a true No. 1 goaltender, then it was worth it.

The goalie position is among the most important in all of team sports, and the specialized talent is at a premium, as the Jackets can attest. They have gone through so many goalies that they’ve had five whose last names begin with “L.” (Props if you can name them without a search engine.)

They thought they had a No. 1 for a few months in the 2008-09 season, until Steve Mason took his game to another level — and it wasn’t up.

Do we trust our eyes with Bobrovsky?

Bobrovsky is a heavy favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. He was 21-11-6 for a team that was 25th in scoring and 28th on the power play. He had the second-best save percentage in the league (.932, behind Craig Anderson’s .941 for Ottawa). He played the crucial role in the Jackets’ eight-week dash toward playoff contention. From March 1 on, he was 17-5-2 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Have the Jackets found their No. 1 goaltender?

“Possibly,” said John Davidson, president of hockey operations.

Davidson chose his words carefully because his staff is negotiating a contract extension with Bobrovsky’s agent. Rousing accolades are reserved for the post-signing news conference.

Davidson, a former goalie, did say this: “We believe in Bob. The fans believe in him. It’s something when a team and a city believe in the goaltender. It’s something else when they don’t. We’ll continue discussions and we’ll get there (on a contract).”

Belief in a goaltender is critical to a winning dynamic, JD is right on that. The dynamic has grown before our eyes over the past eight weeks. Do we trust what we see?

“Undeniably,” said Daryl Reaugh, television analyst for the Dallas Stars, NBC Sports Network and Hockey Night in Canada. Reaugh, another former NHL goalie, has kept a close eye on the Bobrovsky phenomenon.

Reaugh said that, within the fraternity, there is a growing regard for Bobrovsky’s game. They watch him in practice, pregame warm-ups and games. They like his work ethic, preparation, athleticism and competitiveness. Generally speaking, they see what he did as the launching of a career rather than a fluke.

“I’m not going to say he’s Dominik Hasek, but from what I have heard and what I have seen, he’s a lot like Dominik Hasek,” Reaugh said. “He never wants to let a goal in — to the point where he’s insulted when one gets past him. He works his (butt) off to stop every puck and to see every shot. To me, that is one of the things that separate a No. 1 from others: He does not accept goals.”

Hasek won six Vezinas and two Hart trophies (league MVP), and his name is twice etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup. Bobrovsky is 24 years old, and if he is even mentioned in the same sentence, then winning all those games was not such a bad thing.

Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

marace@dispatch.com

@MichaelArace1

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