Despite the thundering cries from Avalanche fans everywhere to buy out the last year of his contract and send him packing---never mind the $4 million salary cap penalty---Jose Theodore will be back as one of the Colorado Avalanche's goalies this coming season.
While Theo spent the second half of last year securely fastened to the bench, young Peter Budaj proved himself as a capable starting netminder. Far more consistent than the team's expensive backup, "Boots" seemed to thrive when given consistent playing time. He, as much as anyone else on the team, was the catalyst behind the 15-2-2 final run.
All that said, rumors abound that the Avalanche still aren't locked on Budaj as the starting goalie for the coming season. Adrian Dater and other Denver reporters have hinted that Coach Joel Quenneville and his mustache will be playing Theodore often, at least early. But possibly the most reliable source on the matter is Budaj himself.
In an interview posted on the Avalanche.com message boards (authenticity always an issue there, but it seems legit), Budaj himself chimed in on the possibility that he might start the year back in his old backup role:
They haven’t told me that I will be #2 exactly. They said they will give Jose many chances to start him up, because they believe in his qualities that he showed in past seasons, while he was in Montreal. It’s hard to talk about injustice. Of course I would be gladly #1. I know where I am and I am realistic about the fact, that Jose has shown already something in the past. I need to work on myself and not think about injustice. I am very happy that I can get as many chances as I got. I can only show with my performances to the coaches that I can play more and push Theodore to the #2 spot.
So, all things considered, it is likely that Coach Q and GM Francois Giguere will try to squeeze every last drop of potential out of Jose Theodore before all is said and done. They'll play him often in the hopes that he'll magically become a good goalie again.
But is that effort even worth it? Will playing Theodore often really help the team get off to a good start?
Let's examine the start of last season for some perspective. In the first 30 games, Jose Theodore started 17 times, with Budaj starting the other 13. Almost half and half. At the end of those 30 games, the team was 14-14-2. Dead at .500. For the most part, each goalie would get a couple of games to play, and when they lost, the other would start the next game. Obviously, that put a ton of pressure on both guys, and neither was able to get into any kind of groove. Whether or not Theodore is capable of finding any groove that isn't part of the wooden player's bench is another question altogether.
In his first 17 starts, Theodore went 8-8-1. Budaj started the year with a 6-6-1 record. Obviously, the back-and-forth platooning of the goalie position didn't help either guy. That kind of thing worked in San Jose with Nabokov and Toskala, but not in Colorado. As the season progressed, however, and Budaj took over as the number one starter, he blossomed---especially over the last 20 games, in which he was pulled only once and started on the bench only twice. Clearly, the added pressure of starting every night on a critical late run for the final playoff spot was just the motivation Budaj needed to excel.
This coming year, there is a strong possibility that business concerns (get the most for your dwindling investment) will trump winning for the Avalanche. The only question is, how much time will Coach Q waste trying to get Theodore to magically return to his Hart-winning form before sending him back to the bench where he belongs?