Some surprising news came out Columbus on Thursday afternoon when the Blue Jackets announced that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would be absent from the team during their game against the Nashville Predators. There wasn't a lot of information given with that announcement, but the language of the statement suggests it was a disciplinary decision.
According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN/The Athletic, Bobrovsky has been at odds with Columbus coach John Tortorella this year and things may have come to a head recently. The goaltender was pulled from the third period of Tuesday's game against the Lightning after giving up four goals on 19 shots and went straight to the locker room rather than sit on the bench.
The Blue Jackets said Bobrovsky may return to practice with the team on Friday, meaning this could be just a one-day punishment for the 30-year-old goalie, but he will have to meet with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen before being cleared to do so.
Considering the fact that Bobrovsky is on the final year of his current contract ($7.425 million AAV) and is unlikely to re-sign with the Blue Jackets -- there has been no reported progress on an extension -- there's some speculation that he could be shipped out of Columbus before the trade deadline. This recent drama likely won't help quell those rumors.
The two-time Vezina winner is having a down year (.906 save percentage in 32 games) but the Blue Jackets are in the Eastern Conference playoff picture halfway through the season, so they may elect to hold onto him for the remainder of this year for the sake of a postseason run -- even if it means losing him for nothing this offseason.
But if Columbus decides against holding onto Bobrovsky, whether it be for the purpose of the locker room and/or asset management, there could be a number of teams potentially interested in the veteran goaltender. Keep in mind that Bobrovsky has a full no-movement clause in his contract and would need to approve any deal. Here are six potential landing spots for Bobrovsky:
If Bobrovsky wants to get traded to a contender, there may not be a more attractive option than San Jose. The Sharks have already made a strong (potential) rental investment in Erik Karlsson, and they could have interest in doubling down with Bobrovsky. They're still hoping to make a push for the Pacific division (and a Stanley Cup) despite the fact that their goaltending has been worst in the league to this point in the season. However, they've got Martin Jones under contract at $5.75 million AAV through 2024, little cap space and no available first round picks to play with until 2022. A deal might be tough unless there's mutual interest in swapping Bob for Jones.
The Flames currently sit atop the Pacific division despite their presumed No. 1 goaltender, Mike Smith, having an absolutely terrible year. If for some reason Calgary doesn't have full confidence in David Rittich, who has been very good this season, to lead them down the stretch, then maybe they try to go all-in and make a play for Bobrovsky. They'd have to find a way to make the money work, but it's possible. Smith is also on an expiring deal at $4.25 million.
With Roberto Luongo and James Reimer not working out in net, the Panthers are in the market for a new starter and they've reportedly had eyes on Bobrovsky. They're on the wrong side of the playoff picture and may not want to surrender too many assets for a guy they can potentially sign in free agency, but they also may want to play it aggressively in order to secure an early chance at signing him long-term. If that's the case, they'll also have to figure out what to do with Reimer, who is signed for two more seasons at $3.4 million AAV.
Semyon Varlamov is in the final year of his current deal with the Avs and is unlikely to re-sign given the team's investment in Philipp Grubauer over the summer, so maybe a Varlamov-for-Bobrovsky swap is something that could work for both sides. It might hinge on Varlamov's interest in Columbus beyond this year (and vice versa) but the Avs may be willing to surrender a little something extra for the price of upgrading in net for the remainder of this season.
The Oilers have a number of problems outside of goaltending, but it's still on the list. Edmonton is hoping to sneak back into the playoffs and they may not feel content with Mikko Koskinen and Cam Talbot being the duo to get them there. They don't have a ton of cap room and it seems like it'd be wise to prioritize upgrading on the wing, but never underestimate the unpredictability of Peter Chiarelli, especially if he's desperate to save his job.
Vancouver is rebuilding and it seems unlikely that they're going to be willing to mortgage anything major for a rental play this year, but maybe they make a play for Bobrovsky if they feel like they can get him on the cheap. The Canucks have a ton of cap space right now and their goaltending has been pretty average behind a rather untrustworthy defense. They're in the playoff hunt and might feel better about their chances of making some postseason noise if they can make a veteran upgrade in net.