COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Columbus Blue Jackets want goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky back, but they have company in pursuing his services.
The 24-year-old Bobrovsky keyed the Blue Jackets' second-half surge last season and was good enough to win the Vezina award as the NHL's top goaltender. His contract expired after the season, and the Blue Jackets are working to keep him not only off of the restricted free-agent market next month, but away from the KHL in his his native Russia. Reports have linked at least one team KHL as ready to make Bobrovsky a substantial offer and others with interest.
"We're working hard to get him back and we're optimistic that we'll have him back," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Tuesday. "We're working at it and hoping we'll get it done."
Bobrovsky had a 21-11-6 record with a .932 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average last season after being traded from Philadelphia.
He was the runaway winner of the Vezina, collecting 17 of 29 first-place votes from general managers leaguewide and doubling up the second-place finisher. Henrik Lundqvist, in overall voting points. He's the youngest Vezina winner in 17 years and the first Russian to win the award.
With the NHL salary cap shrinking starting next season and Bobrovsky's stock skyrocketing, the Blue Jackets have reason to be concerned with the interest by the free-spending KHL. Kekalainen said he doesn't know about "the process" with the KHL's pursuit of Bobrovsky but has heard whispers of a potential high-dollar offer.
"Some of the things you hear, we can't compete with," he said. "Nobody wants to lose the Vezina-winning goalie. Obviously we want him back but we need players who want to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I'm optimistic that he wants to continue on with our team and be a part of the growth of our team."
If Bobrovsky doesn't reach a deal with the Blue Jackets or a KHL team, he'll become an NHL restricted free agent on July 5. Per KHL rules, an offer from that league can formally be made on July 1.
"We can't compete with the KHL -- we are different leagues with different structures and different budgets," Kekalainen said.