When the Colorado Avalanche took a chance on Darcy Kuemper last season, it was a bet on a proven number-one netminder pushing a talented team over the top - and we know how that worked out, with a fresh new Stanley Cup banner set to rise to the Ball Arena rafters on Opening Night.
Darcy Kuemper finishes his stint with the Avs with 37 wins (12th in franchise history), 5 shutouts (9th), and the only goalie to record an assist on the OT winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/tBbOIOjVyI— Avs Stats (@avsstats) July 7, 2022
This year the bet is far less certain in the 26-year-old Alexandar Georgiev, a former high-end but undrafted prospect relegated to backup duty for the New York Rangers when Igor Shesterkin developed into a Vezina-caliber starter. Taking a chance on Georgiev is hardly a shot in the dark, though - his save percentage in his first three years in New York when he still saw a path to a starting job, was consistently over .910. He excelled for Russia internationally in limited opportunities and set himself up to be a hidden gem for the Rangers.
But the Rangers had a very much unhidden gem as well in last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Shesterkin, and a star in Henrik Lundqvist before him, both of whom took precedence over Georgiev in the Ranger net. Stuck in a backup role for years, his confidence - and his play in tandem- withered.
The gamble the Avs front office took, that with opportunity and a stout Colorado defense in front of him Georgiev will become a .910 SV% goalie again, could be the next in the Sakic-MacFarland ongoing series of brilliant moves. Or it could fail, and the Avalanche’s own perennial backup Pavel Francouz will need to step up instead.
Francouz was excellent during the cup run filling in for Kuemper when injuries struck, and other than an extended injury absence to repair his hips has been a rock for Colorado in the number two job since he broke into the NHL.
As a late bloomer in North America following a stellar KHL career, 32-year-old Frankie hasn’t had the chance of his own to prove he can be a number one, and his combination of age, injury history, and size make it unlikely he will become a starter at this point. That said, as a 1B option or even a 1A with a low workload, he has shown he has the skill and sense to succeed.
Behind him, top prospect Justus Annunen will be starting for the AHL Colorado Eagles and looking to build on a strong season that gave hope he can truly be the Avs goalie of the future. Trent Miner will back him up unless of course waiver wire loss Jonas Johansson is sent down by Arizona and reclaimed now that the Coyotes have added Connor Ingram as well.
As Sakic said following the trade for Georgiev, the Avalanche net is the former Rangers’ one to lose. If he does lose it though, the Avs are in capable hands with Francouz and have promising depth in Annunen. The goaltender may not be the position of obvious strength it was last year, but all three have enough to prove that one of them is bound to rise to new heights.