Usually, hedging your bets isn’t a good thing. If you believe in something, throw yourself fully behind it, as any hesitancy will probably cost you. And it’s a question if the Avalanche actually did that with their goaltending situation, as they tried to move Semyon Varlamov along in his contract year before and after acquiring Phillip Grubauer. Perhaps the Avs did want to go all-in on Grubs. They’ll be thanking themselves, or all the other teams who failed to make a quality offer for Varlamov, they didn’t.
It’s always a risk when you take on a career back-up and at least position him to be your starter. Sometimes you get Martin Jones (which was a good thing before this year) or Antti Raana. And then sometimes you get the husk of Cam Talbot (after you’ve played him to death, to be fair to him) or Scott Darling. It’s kind of impossible to know exactly how it’s going to go for a goalie who’s never had a starter’s load until he gets one.
Being behind a Trotz team certainly helped Grubauer. In Washington, Grubauer faced an average of 28 shots against for every 60 minutes (all strengths). This year in Colorado is 31. 1, though that’s not too far off from the 30.6 he saw last season in DC as the Caps were kind of dysfunctional there for a while. And more pointedly, the Avs are giving up less scoring-chances and less high-danger ones for Grubauer than the Caps did. So they should be getting the same kind of performance that saw him put up a .923 last year.
But they’re not. They’re getting an .890. And you can’t pin it on a shitty penalty-kill, as Grubauer’s SV% at evens has dropped (from .934 to .905) pretty aggressively, though his work on the kill isn’t making anyone write fanfic either (.870 to .813). Grubauer’s work on the kill is fifth-worst in the league, behind Ward, Smith, Mrazek, and Talbot, which definitely puts you on bee-guarding detail. And again, on the kill the Avs are giving up way less shots, chances, and high-danger chances than the Caps did last year.
Grubauer is 27, so the fear is that this is what he is. Spasmed a few years as a quality back-up, snuffed it when given the chance to have the role to himself. Which puts the Avs in something of a bind. Semyon Varlamov hasn’t been a Greek God or anything, but his .911 is just about league-average. And he’s actually seen a touch worse defensive work in front of him than Grubs has gotten. He is a free agent, and he did just watch this team basically announce they were going to try to get along without him.
Varlamov is 30, so should still have a few decent years, and it’s not a blessed free agent class. Bobrovsky seems destined for Florida, leaving only Jimmy Howard and Varlamov as things to be pursued. You’re going to have more than a few teams doing a playoff flameout thanks to goaltending, with words like Calgary, San Jose, possibly St. Louis, Columbus will have a hole there, Carolina as well, just off the top. That’s more than enough chairs.
The Avs have Cale Makar arriving as soon as next season (he has nothing left to prove at the college level), and with MacKinnon and LaxativeLog on bargain deals before handing everything to Mikko Rantanen, you’d say their window opens next season (especially if they can salvage Jost, Greer, and Compher). Rebuilds have been scuttled by goaltending before, and the Avs can’t leave that to question.
If they let Varly walk, they have a very questionable Grubauer in house and that’s it. Bobrovsky will be more expensive than Varlamov and coming off an even worse year. Howard is too old to be with the Avs when they really matter. Swing a trade? Aren’t that many looking to move a goalie, and generally if they are it’s one you’re taking something of a leap on. Which the Avs just did with Grubauer.
They may be stuck with Varlamov after all.
Game #62 Preview Suite