Blue Jackets: Offer from Russia gives Bobrovsky more clout

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Kyle Robertson | Dispatch
Sergei Bobrovsky was ranked second in the league in save percentage, fourth in goals-against, sixth in shutouts and seventh in wins.

A week that should be devoted to Sunday’s NHL draft — and the Blue Jackets’ three first-round picks therein — has been knocked askew by contract talks with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky that took on a more-serious tone yesterday.

According to Sportsnet, a Canadian TV network, the Blue Jackets sought permission from Calgary to speak with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who is leaning toward retirement despite having one year left on his contract with the Flames.

It’s unclear whether the Blue Jackets are truly interested in the 36-year-old Kiprusoff as a player in the event that Bobrovsky walks, or whether general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is trying to spur talks with Bobrovsky’s agent, Paul Theofanous.

Kekalainen declined to address the report, saying he “won’t respond to speculation.”

“We’ve had some good conversations with his agent, and we’re optimistic,” Kekalainen said of the Bobrovsky talks. “Now we have to focus on the draft, too. That’s very important. But we can manage. We’re working on it.”

Kekalainen spent much of his pre-draft press conference yesterday answering questions about Bobrovsky. Shortly after the meeting, he had more talks with Theofanous.

It doesn’t appear the two sides are anywhere close to a deal, but they are expected to meet as soon as today, when Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets’ hockey operations department travel to New York in advance of the draft.

Bobrovsky, 24, can become a restricted free agent on July 5 if he’s not re-signed by the Jackets.

A growing concern is the threat of Bobrovsky leaving to play in Russia’s top league, the KHL.

Yesterday, KHL founder and President Alexander Medvedev, who also owns the St. Petersburg SKA franchise, said his club has negotiated a contract with Bobrovsky, hoping to lure the NHL’s Vezina Trophy winner to Russia.

Published reports suggest the offer from St. Petersburg could be as high as $10 million per season. Bobrovsky played for that club during the NHL lockout.

“I’ve met with Sergei and his agent,” Medvedev told R-Sport, a Russian website. “We held negotiations, an offer was made. Now the player has to make his decision. The choice is his.”

In addition to the

$10 million, Medvedev has used the possibility of Bobrovsky representing Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as a lure, too.

“What could be better than playing in front of the national team’s training staff in an Olympic year?” Medvedev said.

Kekalainen has vowed that the Blue Jackets would match any offer sheet Bobrovsky might sign as a restricted free agent after July 5. But he acknowledged yesterday that the team probably couldn’t match a KHL offer. Not a offer of $10 million per season, anyway.

“We can’t compete with the KHL,” Kekalainen said. “They have different budgets and different rules. We’re going to operate under the structure and the contracts that have been signed in this league.

“Nobody wants to lose the Vezina-winning goaltender. That would be foolish to say. Obviously, we want him back, but I’ve said it before: We need players who want to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s our main focus; that’s all we can worry about.”

The Blue Jackets made an initial contract offer in March, but months later, barely any progress has been made, Kekalainen has said.

Neither Theofanous nor Bobrovsky will comment.

There are no hard feelings yet, Kekalainen said.

“No, no,” he said. “We like the way he played. We like him as a person and a teammate. Those things are all really important for us.

“I think he’s a hell of a goaltender, a real good guy and a great role model, somebody who can lead our team by example. This is just business. It’s a business and a process.”

Perhaps a very long process.

aportzline@dispatch.com

@aportzline

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