Had the Colorado Avalanche left their goaltending depth chart completely alone this offseason, they probably would have ultimately been just fine for another year.
Although they really needed to start bolstering their prospect depth chart, and their starters were both likely about to hit the wrong side of their prime years, they had a relatively decent thing going. Starter Semyon Varlamov had a pretty good bounce-back season after his 2016-17 troubles, Jonathan Bernier was an admirable backup, and Andrew Hammond and Joe Cannata were both good enough (and well liked enough) that bringing them back to bolster the AHL depth chart with Spencer Martin would have yielded enough wins to satisfy the fanbase.
For a team on the upswing, though, that’s a pretty lukewarm state of affairs - so unsurprisingly, the organization made some moves to kick off the summer with a few signings and some draft selections.
Things can still change, and goaltending is one of the least predictable positions in sports. For now, though, this is what the team’s depth chart looks like at the NHL level heading into the 2018-19 NHL season:
THE STARTER: SEMYON VARLAMOV
2017-18 season: 51 GP | .920 SV% (regular season
Varlamov spent what amounted to essentially half of the Avalanche’s disastrous 2016-17 NHL season on the injured reserve list, ultimately getting shut down for the season due to hip surgery performed in January.
Over the summer, the team used the retirement of long-time NHL goaltending coach Francois Allaire to bring in a familiar face for the Russian-born goaltender, hiring Jussi Parkkila to come overseas and work with his former student in North America. The pair worked to return Varlamov’s game to its original lustre, adding in some off-ice conditioning to improve his overall durability as well.
The conditioning only did so much, as Varlamov still struggled with injuries throughout the 2017-18 campaign that ultimately posed too great a risk to keep a tandem of him and Jonathan Bernier once again. His .920 raw save percentage during the games he was available for, though, was among the top for NHL starters across the board - and his consistency during tough stretches workload-wise while Bernier was out with his own injuries helped the Avalanche faithful feel a lot better about him moving forward.
Varlamov may never be able to play heavy workloads, but he shouldn’t have to anymore. Now that he has a young, durable 1B in the system behind him, expect him to get somewhere around 50-55 starts at the most during the 2018-19 season, holding down the fort just enough to show he’s still the face of the franchise in net while getting adequate rest to keep up his stats.
In today’s game, general manager Joe Sakic showed considerable insight at the draft by admitting that heavy start workloads for goaltenders wasn’t feasible or smart anymore. Hopefully, this mentality as a team will help Varlamov truly shine next year.
THE 1B BACKUP: PHILIPP GRUBAUER
2017-18 season: 35 GP | .923 save percentage (regular season)
The biggest trade of the surprisingly-quiet 2018 NHL Draft was the acquisition of Grubauer by the Avalanche, who snagged him from Washington to become their tandem backup next season and beyond.
He was quickly signed to a new extension, locking him up for $3.33 million per season through the year 2021. At that point, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, but the team should have an excellent idea of just how much he can contribute and how much he’ll be worth longer-term.
A German native, Grubauer was one of the last foreign goaltending imports to develop in North America before the brief CHL goaltender import ban, which was lifted just this week.
He then got the gift of developing in the pros under iconic coach Mitch Korn, who helped him optimize his positional game to compensate for a lack of size or exceptional agility.
For Avalanche fans, Grubauer will be a welcome sight in net. He’s patient and conservative with his depth, staying predominantly inside the blue paint despite his shorter stature and relying more on tracking and optimal, crisp movements to make up for what’s one of the league’s more narrow butterfly stances.
He doesn’t drop overly early and doesn’t seem to have a weaker side when it comes to cheating his angles, hitting his positioning with crisp edges and holding his depth well. He lacks an explosive level of cross-crease movement, though, and doesn’t have the flexibility to make those catchy pad saves seen by guys like Varlamov or Bernier.
The real question, of course, will be his durability if he has to step up quickly to compensate for a Varlamov injury. But given his history with Washington, he should make an excellent addition to the team moving forward.