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 seasonhe 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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