It’s been just over seven months and half a hockey hockey season since the Coloorado Avalanche acquired goalie Philipp Grubauer in a trade with the Washington Capitals.
The trade was seen by some as shocking move, but it was primarily a business deal— the Capitals needed to clear up salary cap space and let newcomer Phoenix Copley into the rotation, and the Avalanche needed a new goalie after not re-signing Jonathan Bernier. The Capitals didn’t want to deal Grubuaer to a divisional rival, so the Avalanche (in the Central Division, far far away from the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division) seemed like the right team to make a trade with.
As of Feb. 6, Grubauer has played in 22 of the Avalanche’s 55 games this season, and started 20. He has a 9-7 record and an .891 save percentage, including his most recent outing — in which he allowed five goals against the Blue Jackets en route to a 6-3 loss last night.
Grubauer has played infrequently recently, producing some fairly inconsistent results in the process. Before Feb. 5, Grubauer’s last start was Jan. 23, where he allowed all 5 goals in a 5-2 loss to the Wild. He also started Jan. 8 against against the Jets and allowed 6 of the Jets’ seven goals in a 4-7 loss. Grubauer’s last win in goal was Jan. 4 against the Rangers where he only gave up one goal in the Avalanche’s 6-1 rout.
On Thursday, Grubuaer and the Avalanche will face off against his former team, trying to pull off a win against the German-born goaltender’s former mentor, Braden Holtby.
Grubauer started the Capitals’ first playoff games last year before handing the crease back to Holtby, but helped the ultimate Stanley Cup champs earn their berth in the first place — so needless to say, it’s an emotional reunion.
Sentiment aside, though, there’s a much bigger talking point at stake. After over half the year, is Grubuaer ready to prove that he can backstop the Avalanche back to the playoffs this year?
In his one previous game against his former team Nov. 16, Grubauer had 26 saves and kept the game tied until overtime, where the Avalanche eventually lost 3-2 on a power play goal by Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom.
The Capitals are 29-18-6 (as of Feb. 5) and have been anchored by strong showings from both Holtby and Grubauer’s replacement in Pheonix Copley. The Capitals seem to believe in Copley’s long term success, to boot, as they signed him to a three year, $3.3 million contract extension Feb. 4.
On the other side of the ice, Grubauer and Avalanche starter Semyon Varlamov have both played inconsistently recently, leading the Avalanche to a 22-22-8 record as of Feb. 6. Varlamov is in his 9th NHL season, and will turn 31 later this year. He has also missed significant time during the last two seasons with hip and lower body injuries.
Varlamov is approaching the end of a five year contract and there is speculation that he might not be re-signed. That would likely leave Grubauer to inherit the starting position, but his play would have to improve this season for Head Coach Jared Bednar to trust him with increased responsibility. Grubauer is signed for at least the next two seasons, beyond this one, so has some time, but not much to establish himself as a reliable goaltender.
The second half of the season has just begun, so we will have to see which goalie stays healthy and who, if either of them, improves in performance. The job is anyone’s to take at this point, and Grubauer has everything he needs to assume the starting role in the coming years. Only time will tell how this trade works out in the long term, but so far, it hasn’t turned out too poorly for either team.