Do the Avalanche Have a Playoff Foundation? (Part 1: Goalies)

Mar 29, 2012; Vancouver, British Columbia,CANADA; Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov (1) during the singing of the national anthem before the game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE



Last week, Andi ran a series here at Mile High Hockey on the economics behind the Avs' rebuild. I'm also taking a look at the rebuild, but I'm approaching it from a different angle. By now, Avalanche fans should be familiar with the core foundation that the team has been building around - you know, the Holy Trinity of centers, Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov, etc etc. So, I decided to take the different components and compare them to the eight teams that made the playoffs this year in the Western Conference. I'm starting things off with goaltending and then will move to defense and forwards the next two Mondays (spoiler alert: I think today might be the high point).

For this study, I went to the ever-useful hockey-reference.com and grabbed the regular season stats for the primary goalies for the 7 legit playoff teams + San Jose (guffaw). I also included "backups" Brian Elliott and Cory Schneider as they played significant minutes this year (and, at least as I type this on April 22nd, are currently the playoff starter for their team). Below that are the numbers for Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere (an amazing depth player for the Avalanche, but this piece isn't about depth players).

Player Team Age GAA GP W L T/O SV% SO
Brian Elliott Stl 26 1.56 38 23 10 4 0.940 9
Cory Schneider Van 25 1.96 33 20 8 1 0.937 3
Mike Smith Pho 29 2.21 67 38 18 10 0.930 8
Jonathan Quick LA 26 1.95 69 35 21 13 0.929 10
Jaroslav Halak Stl 26 1.97 46 26 12 7 0.926 6
Pekka Rinne Nas 29 2.39 73 43 18 8 0.923 5
Jimmy Howard Det 27 2.12 57 35 17 4 0.920 6
Roberto Luongo Van 32 2.41 55 31 14 8 0.919 5
Antti Niemi SJ 28 2.42 68 34 22 9 0.915 6
Corey Crawford Chi 27 2.72 57 30 17 7 0.903 0
Player Pos Age GAA GP W L T/O SV% SO
Semyon Varlamov Col 23 2.59 53 26 24 3 0.913 4
Jean-Sebastien Giguere Col 34 2.27 32 15 11 3 0.919 2

As you can see, Varlamov had a decent year for the Avalanche this year, but statistically, the only playoff goalie he was better than this year was Corey Crawford. His numbers don't quite measure up as playoff caliber...yet. That's a key word, because Varly was just 23 years old this year (he turned 24 on April 27th), younger than everyone else on the list. Here's the list again, but instead with NHL stats from when they were 23.

Age GP GAA Sv%
Brian Elliott 23 31 2.77 0.902
Cory Schneider 23 2
Mike Smith 23 0
Jonathan Quick 23 44 2.48 0.914
Jaroslav Halak 23 34 2.86 0.915
Pekka Rinne 23 2
Jimmy Howard 23 4
Roberto Luongo 23 65 2.77 0.915
Antti Niemi 23 0
Corey Crawford 23 5

When they were 23, only Elliott, Quick, Halak and Luongo spent any significant time in the NHL. Varly's stats are fairly similar to all four and, of course, all four have improved significantly since then. The obvious extrapolation is that it's not a stretch to picture Varlamov putting up playoff-like numbers in a couple of years (I did an age-related Varly study a couple of months back which led me to similar conclusions). It's not a automatic - these goalies improved over time and Varlamov will need to do the same. For now, though, he appears to be on the necessary development track.

Bottom line: I'm very comfortable with Semyon Varlamov as a core foundation piece. Although he still has some developing to do (insert full-time-goalie-coach dig here), he's shown that he has a ton of talent. Based on that talent and this simple study, it's not hard to envision Varly as one of the dominant goalies in the Western Conference a couple of years from now. Wait...it's not hard to envision Varly as one of the dominant playoff goalies in the Western Conference a couple of years from now. Yeah, that sounds much better.

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