The Avalanche Don’t Know A Goalie When They See One

It was late in the 2009-10 season and the Colorado Avalanche were in an improbable position. Just one year prior they finished with only 69 points which was good enough for dead last in the Western Conference, but now Matt Duchene could send them to the post-season with a shootout goal against the Vancouver Canucks. Duchene calmly walked in and slid the puck to his forehand and buried it past Roberto Luongo. The Avs poured onto the ice in celebration of their trip to the post-season.

That moment, however, must seem like a lifetime ago for Avalanche fans. The team promptly followed that year up by finishing 14th in the West in 2010-11 and 11th in 2011-12. This season things have gotten even worse as Colorado has been abysmal and sit in second last place in the entire league, which culminated last week in a rant by goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Avalanche netminder had seen enough of his team’s effort and said many players were more worried about their summer trip to Vegas than finishing out the season.

Now Giguere has a right to complain as he has performed admirably in 2012-13 in limited action, but starter Semyon Varlamov has not played as well. Varlamov has a save percentage barely above .900 and a goals against average over three. That’s not going to get it done in this league and Colorado as a team currently sits 22nd overall in save percentage in the NHL.

With that being said, what should be more frustrating to the Avalanche is the current play of some of their former goaltenders and how easily the organization let them go. Craig Anderson should be the first name that comes to mind and this season

he has been a fantasy stud with Ottawa. Despite missing substantial time with an ankle injury, Anderson is still getting some Vezina consideration with a .949 save percentage and 1.52 goals against average to go along with three shutouts.

Even though Anderson has upped his game with the Senators, it’s a little surprising (considering his career statistics) that the Avalanche gave up on him so quickly. In three seasons with the Florida Panthers before arriving in Colorado, Anderson had save percentages of .931, .935, and .924 respectively. His first year with the Avalanche was the aforementioned 2009-10 season, and his stellar play was the only reason Colorado even made it to the playoffs.

Anderson’s numbers slid a little the next year in the first half of the season to a .897 mark and a goals against of over 3.00, and the Avalanche simply gave up on him. He was dealt to the Senators after just 33 games that year and the stretch was an anomaly in an otherwise solid career. When he arrived in Ottawa his save percentage was .939 for the final 18 games of that campaign.

It’s worth noting that the Avalanche received Brian Elliott in return from Ottawa for Anderson. After just 12 games with a bad Avalanche team in front of him in 2010-11, Colorado saw enough. They declined his qualifying offer and the St. Louis Blues scooped him up on a one-year deal worth just $600,000. Last season with the Blues Elliott finished second in the league with nine shutouts and first in both SP (.940) and GAA (1.56), en route to an all-star appearance.

His play in 2011-12 led him to sign a two-year contract extension with the Blues and after a rocky start to the year; Elliott seems to be rounding back into form. He has posted shutouts in three of his last four starts, and Elliott didn’t allow a goal for a span of 214 minutes, while breaking Jacques Plante’s team record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal on the road. It’s easy to point to the Blues’ system as a good spot for goaltenders to succeed, but surely Elliott himself deserves plenty of credit. Fantasy owners that took a chance on him this year and stuck it out are thanking themselves now.

You can even look at someone like Peter Budaj, who just signed a two-year contract extension with Montreal this week, as someone Colorado let go of too soon and misused. The Avalanche let Budaj walk after the 2010-11 season and he is slowly but surely becoming a reliable backup for the Canadiens, and now owns a 7-1-1 record after winning his last six starts. Now I’m not putting Budaj in the category of Elliott and Anderson fantasy wise, but perhaps Colorado was asking too much of him and making him a backup would have been the more effective option. The Avalanche would surely love to have Anderson as their starter and Budaj backing him up right now.

Not only are the Avalanche cast-offs playing at a high level, but they are doing it at a very cheap price. If you combine the cap hits for Anderson, Elliott, and Budaj in 2012-13 you only get just over $6M. If you compare that to just Colorado’s tandem of Giguere and Varlamov, they come out to slightly more than $4M. That’s not a huge difference when you consider how much better the former Avs are playing right now. Not to mention looking at some of their salaries, really puts the Luongo contract debacle into perspective.

There is a lot of young talent and good pieces on the Avalanche right now, which makes you wonder what they could do with quality goaltending. When you have someone between the pipes that is playing at an exceptionally high level it can really make all the difference for a young and inexperienced team when it comes to the standings. Take the Columbus Blue Jackets for example. They may not make the post-season when all is said and done, but Sergei Bobrovsky has at least kept them in the conversation and the hunt. The trick is identifying that goalie that can make the difference and the Philadelphia Flyers certainly didn’t think that was Bobrovsky.

Colorado is still looking for their man in goal and one thing is for sure, the next time the Avalanche let a goaltender go, poolies and NHL organizations would be wise to give him a long look.


Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @amato_mike


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Comments (6)add comment

captain_man_guy said:

... While I can't say I completely disagree with some of your viewpoints here, I don't think you have accurately pinpointed Colorado's issues. The goaltenders are suffering for the Avs because they aren't playing behind much support. The downfall of your argument is that they pick up solid performers from other teams who then have a tough time keeping up their numbers in Denver before being traded to other teams where they play exceptionally well. Wouldn't that indicate a poor defensive system coupled with poor management? I have watched Varlamov a few times this season and one thing I love about his game is that he lets in one early goal but plays lights out the other 55 minutes or what have you. I think he is a completely serviceable goaltender but he doesn't have much support from the rest of his team at either end of the ice. Let me pose this to you: Varlamov has 3 shutouts on the year in 31 games played. Rinne and Smith are tied at 5 for the season, while Elliot and Halak have 3 a piece with 34 games played between the two. I bring these examples up because the preds, yotes, and blues all play defense-first systems. They can afford to employ a net-minder who can steal games with a heavy workload when the team is not playing at their best. Colorado is simply not at that caliber. I agree, management has no idea what it is doing, but we should be just as critical of the 21 skaters on the ice before throwing stones at the goaltenders
April 17, 2013
Votes: +0

Dunnder said:

Varly I appreciate that you didnt rub in the price that Sherman paid for Varlamov in this article as well.. Knowing we lost those goalies (specifically Anderson) only to add a goalie that cost us a couple great picks... it would have brought me to tears.
April 16, 2013
Votes: +0

angus said:

... Bad/absentee ownership has a trickle-down effect, and it's a shame. Colorado has a lot of talent in that room.
April 15, 2013
Votes: -1

pbhockey4 said:

A little more to it than this article suggests Have to wholeheartedly agree with rangersfury and Dakkster--it's not that the Avs are absolutely terrible at spotting goalie talent, it's that their coaching and development of goalies is terrible AND that they haven't been playing good enough hockey in front of their goalies to give them a shot. Anderson has flourished in Ottawa, but it was well documented that he got fed up with the Avs coaching staff and wanted out. His contract was expiring that coming summer, and so the Avs traded for someone they though might want to sign with the Avs and actually play well (who knows about the former, but Elliott was horrendous during his short tenure in net for the Avs). Not a great situation, but getting rid of Andy was a necessary risk, as if they waited till the summer he would've walked and the Avs would've gotten nothing in return.

As far as Dakkster's response, this has been my biggest beef as an Avs fan. Kirk McLean is now listed as the "goalie coach" on the Avalanche website but I couldn't find anything to suggest that he had moved from part-time "goalie consultant" to full time goalie coach. The organization's lack of commitment to developing the young goalie (Varly) for whom they paid a VERY steep price is sickening. I think it just goes to show yet another reason to assume that the Avs management is incompetent.

I think if anything, this article points out the importance of the team in front of the goalie and just how much a difference that can make for the goalie's playing level and confidence. Anderson was very solid for Colorado in his first year, and had a shaky start to his second year--but he's not a vastly different goalie now in Ottawa than he was then with the Avs. Ottawa is just a better run and coached team, and they've given Andy the confidence to do what he showed flashes of while he was in Colorado, which was single-handedly steal games. As far as Elliott, he is absolutely a product of the St. Louis system. Does Elliott deserve some credit? Sure he does. But it's also easy to play well when you're put in a position to succeed on a team that boast great coaching and great offensive and defensive depth. Look no further than Phoenix to see how much coaching can have an impact on a team's success, particularly a goalie's success. The same could be said for Budaj, who no longer is being looked to as "the man" with the Habs, has a great starter in front of him (Price), and a team that is playing much better under a new coach this year.

I still believe Varly can be a solid starting NHL goalie, BUT the big caveat is that the organization needs to clear house this summer and start fresh. Fire Sacco, Sherman, and Lacroix, and bring in competent people who can right the ship. Hire a freakin goalie coach to help Varly develop. And probably the most important from a goalie's standpoint is to bring in defensemen who can actually play hockey at a high level (and get rid of guys like Hunwick, Zanon, etc) and a coach with a defensive system that fits the players on the team. It's been pathetic watching the Avs this year, and without wholesale changes they will look to be the Edmonton Oilers 2.0 in a few years...
April 15, 2013
Votes: +0

Dakkster said:

... The most confounding thing about Colorado is that they are the only NHL organization WITHOUT a full-time goalie coach. At least they were earlier this year when Justin Goldman brought it up for the millionth time. You'd figure they would get one and not just have Kirk McLean doing it part-time.
April 15, 2013
Votes: +0

rangersfury said:

... Lets not get carried away here. Andersen's three-season stretch of ludicrous save percentages came in a total of 53 games and that his only two full years as a starter have had fairly mediocre results (2.63/.917 and 2.83/.914 in COL and OTT, respectively). Elliot has had one massive statistical anomaly of a season and a good April this season. Varlamov's stats last year were equal to or better than Andersen's as well.

The Avs basically brought in career backups with upside (Bishop to Tampa anyone?) and hoped they would run away with the job. That failed multiple times so they paid up for a young, high pedigree goalie with mixed results. I wouldn't say this is so much of the organization being spectacularly bad at evaluating goalies but maybe they need to address the players and/or system in front of the net since it doesn't seem to matter who they put between the pipes.
April 15, 2013
Votes: +5
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