With the Avalanche mired in a seven-game losing streak and vying for the worst record in the NHL heading into tonight's home game against Phoenix, the 26-year-old is facing an uncertain future. His contract expires after this season, and his play won't have anyone — in Colorado or elsewhere — knocking down his door, although his 2008-09 salary of "only" $800,000 doesn't set a daunting benchmark.
I've seen some speculation out there that the Avs might not even tender Budaj a qualifying offer and just let him walk away. Fat chance. If he's not traded before, he will certainly get his QO from the Avs (I believe $880,000 is the minimum). You don't let assets like that walk away.
Avalanche coach Tony Granato conceded that Budaj hasn't taken advantage of his chance this season, but added: "Is he still going to be a good goalie in this league, at this level? Yes. No doubt about it."
Granato added, "If you look at a lot of elite goaltenders in our league right now, they faced situations and years like this as well. (Boston's) Tim Thomas, for example, who's having an MVP year. Hopefully, what Peter's learned from this year will help him in the future."
In 2006-2007, Tim Thomas had a 3.13 GAA and a .905 Save Percentage for a Bruins team that finished with 76 points. That's not a far cry from Budaj's 3.02 / .893 numbers he's putting up so far this year. In fact, through that season, Thomas had career numbers of 3.00 / .909. Budaj? 2.80 / .900. Thomas' amazing late-career breakout doesn't guarantee that Budaj will do the same, but it should at least illustrate that it is certainly possible to dramatically improve one's game - especially if the team in front of you get's better.
It has certainly been a disappointing season for Budaj, but it is not the end of the line for him. He is certainly nearing a crossroads; will he make the step up as a legit NHL goalie or is he going to start shuffling around between teams and to and from the minors? Through the haze of suckitude this year, there were still some real flashes of talent from Budaj, and I still think he has the ability to turn the corner on this. I'm not even convinced - as AD is - that Budaj is done in Denver. His status - like that of several other players - is going to depend on who is running the team. Wherever he plays next year, though, it's likely to be on a better team than the sorry lot he's mixed up with this year. And you never know - a Thomas-like development may just be in his near future...