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Could Colorado’s zany goaltending experiment actually work out?

Aug 12, 2011, 11:00 AM EDT

Semyon Varlamov AP

Later on today, I’m going to reveal my list of teams who botched their goaltending situations during this off-season (or at least failed to address those problem areas). There are two teams whose moves might just be crazy enough to work, though.

I’ll cover the New York Islanders’ potentially engrossing soap opera that probably won’t happen later on, but first I’d like to discuss the other team who might be wiser than people realize: the Colorado Avalanche. It’s not a popular track to take, but even considering some significant red flags, it’s still not that outrageous to wonder if their plan might work out.

Before I explain why Colorado’s duo might work better than expected, let me point out some of the flaws of their plan.

  • Obviously, the Avalanche gave up way too much to acquire Varlamov. It would be fascinating to hear the conversations that took place between the Washington Capitals and Avalanche front offices, because George McPhee must have spun quite the tale to convince Colorado that a first and second round pick represented fair market value for a goalie they had no intention of re-signing.
  • There’s also no denying that Varlamov has as a small body of work. The Russian goalie has only played 59 regular season games and 19 playoff contests in his short NHL career. Injuries might be a bigger worry for Varlamov than Colorado’s weak defense next season.
  • I also agree that the Avs took a surprising risk by giving Jean-Sebastien Giguere a two-year deal. Giguere has an impressive resume, but he looked downright awful at times in Toronto. Much like the Varlamov trade, it seemed like Colorado overspent on their probable backup.

OK, so those are the biggest things working against Colorado’s goalie moves. With that out of the way, here’s why their decisions might actually pay off.

source: APA quick reminder that Varlamov has actually been a good NHL goalie

If there’s one line of thought that has absolutely stunned me this off-season, it’s the argument that Varlamov was clearly the third best goalie in Washington. I know that the Internet generates a certain brand of short-term thinking, but saying that Braden Holtby is a better goalie than Varlamov after he played 14 (admittedly impressive) games is hasty at best.

The funniest part is that although Varlamov’s 10-11 season was wrecked by injuries, his stats were actually outstanding. His win loss record was mediocre (11-9-5) but he had a dazzling .924 save percentage and 2.23 GAA. If you really want to weigh wins and losses even though it’s largely an unfair way of judging a goalie, his career record is 30-13-12 with a nice .917 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

Varlamov’s been almost as good in the playoffs, too; you might recall that he saved the day for Washington when Jose Theodore fell to pieces. While his 10-9 record might be enough for people to somehow condemn his overall game, his save percentage was .915 with a 2.45 GAA. Maybe those aren’t world-class numbers, but they show that Varlamov can give his team a chance to win big games.

Again, he hasn’t played a lot of games, but whatever stylistic quibbles people might have with Varlamov, the numbers paint him in a very flattering light. He’s also known as a fairly athletic goalie, which will probably come in handy considering Colorado’s frequently lax defense.

source: APGiguere might not be awful.

Giguere has been average (at best) since the 2007-08 season. The smart money is on that trend continuing for the former Conn Smythe winner, especially since he’s not considered the most athletic netminder around. That being said, aside from James Reimer‘s tiny sample of games in 2010-11, just about every Maple Leafs goalie looked awful during the past few years.

The Avalanche defense probably won’t make things much easier, but there’s an outside chance that Giguere might capture at least some of the magic from his days with the Anaheim Ducks.

I don’t like the contract they gave him, but there are worse backup gambles in the NHL.

***

The Avalanche are resting their hopes on two talented but hard-to-figure young players in Varlamov and Erik Johnson. We’ll wait until preview time to predict whether or not this experiment will work out, but many critics could look foolish if they dismiss their chances entirely.

  1. capsrockva - Aug 12, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    GMGM stole from the Avs in sending Varly to you for not one but two picks, let alone that they are in the first round. Varly can’t stay healthy. We knew he wasn’t going to resin here anyway. He used the KHL as an escape. All you guys had to do was sign him to an offer sheet.

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 12, 2011 at 1:01 PM

      How much compensation would they have had to given up? The Avs that is.

      • capsrockva - Aug 12, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        I think only 2.2 mil

  2. derpdederpdederp - Aug 12, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    adding a rookie goaltender and a vet to mentor him is “zany”? do you ever have an intelligent thought? sure doesnt seem like it. or is that just a lame attempt at humour? the real humour in all this is that you think youre qualified to assess teams offseason moves

    • derpdederpdederp - Aug 12, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      I know hes not technically a rookie, I meant to say young goalie

  3. capsrockva - Aug 12, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    Basically Varly wanted GMGM to assure him of the number 1 goalie and he wasn’t about to due that based on his injuries

  4. polegojim - Aug 12, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    Even as a Red Wings fan, I like the Avs. I want the Avs to win. I want them to be good again.

    Mr. Sherman keeps stressing to Avs fans that he has a plan, noting how smart he is, but… I’m not seeing it… I want to see it… I’m trying to see it… I don’t see it. Can somebody please show it to me?

    How can a team like the Avs, with the talent that has skated on that ice… and this IS skating on that ice, CONTINUE to be so utterly and convincingly weak?

  5. matty11kat - Aug 13, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    a few points:
    1. Varly’s only question mark is his ability (or lack thereof) to stay healthy. He’s been doing A LOT of off-season workouts to strengthen his groin, so there’s a pretty good chance that he’s going to stay healthy. Also, if you want to believe Varly’s agent Washington’s doctors are pretty incompetent and part of the problem.
    2. Did we overpay to get Varly? Probably. Was there a reason? You betcha. McPhee said that there were 4 other teams trying to land Semyon. Offer anything less than a 1st and 2nd and Varly wouldn’t be an Av.
    3. The last young goalie Giggy mentored was Ilya Bryzgalov. And that turned out absolutely horrible, didn’t it?
    4. About the Avs defense; please take note of the moves made over the past 5-6 months and notice that we’re not a small, quick, puck-moving D anymore. Read: O’Byrne, Johnson, Hejda, O’Brien. Mean, nasty, and defense defensemen are what we’ve got now, not the PMD-filled mess of last season.

  6. polegojim - Aug 13, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    @matty – hope you’re even remotely correct.

    Sadly, it’s basically the same front office that recruited, drafted, traded for the past 5 years defensemen… I hope that Sherman is smarter then Giguere, but Giguere didn’t make all those decisions on his own. My point is that the current Avs managment is responsible for this schizophrenic mess, no one else.

    And, it’s the same coaching staff for 3 years now… while Coach Q immediately produced a serious contender and then a Cup. I said Sacco was weak the year they hired him… I’m convinced of it now… just like Granato. Decent guys, just not head coach material.

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