Joe Sakic had himself a very busy 53rd birthday Thursday. The Colorado Avalanche legend and current GM won the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award in the middle of Round 1 of the NHL Entry Draft. He beat out Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julian Brisebois and New York Rangers GM and former teammate and organization member, Chris Drury.
The news that had everyone talking, however, was the trade Sakic and Drury came together to make earlier in the day, with the Avalanche acquiring Bulgarian Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev from Drury’s Rangers, in exchange for the Avs 2022 3rd Round Pick (97th overall), a 2022 5th Round Pick (161st overall), and a 2023 3rd Round Pick. This news sent shockwaves through the fanbase, as many Avs faithful were anticipating a new deal for goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Sources also confirm Darcy Kuemper is out in Colorado. Pending UFA was too expensive to retain. He’s headed to market Wednesday. https://t.co/wu5gkcfWLv— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 7, 2022
This trade has brought about mixed emotions and skepticism from the fanbase, as the Avs will be going into the 2022-23 season with one of the cheaper goaltending tandems in the NHL. Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz are both netminders who will be looking to prove their worth as potential NHL starters, and as Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports in an interview with Joe Sakic at the draft, Sakic sees Georgiev as the No. 1 netminder going into the season at this moment in time and has secured a 3 year, $3.4 million dollar deal with the team.
So who exactly can the Avalanche faithful expect the Bulgarian goaltender to be when he’s working in the Colorado crease? I’ve turned to a good friend of mine, Matthew Segal (@msegs13 on Twitter), who has been covering the New York Rangers for a fellow fansite, Blueshirtsnation.com for a number of years. He’s been very fond of Georgiev as a player and is going to help me introduce Georgiev to his new followers, giving us his two cents on what he thinks Alex can be behind the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Analyzing Georgiev’s NYR Tenure:
Georgiev’s first season of NHL action came in the 2017-18 season, which saw him spend most of the season in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack, while the Rangers operated with Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec as the primary tandem. Georgiev would join the Rangers after an injury to Pavelec, where he would post a 4-4-1 record in 9 starts, with a 3.15 GAA and a .918 SV%. After a brief stint with Hartford to start the 2018-19 season, Georgiev joined the Rangers once again, where he would officially stick with the big club. In his first season behind Lundqvist, Georgiev would return very positive results, posting a record of 13-14-4, a 2.91 GAA, and a .914 SV% behind a Rangers team that wasn’t very good, with Dave Quinn coaching behind an NHL bench for the very first time.
The 2019-20 season would see Georgiev garner the most starts out of any Rangers netminder, making the start for 32 of the team's 70 games that season, posting a record of 17-14-2, a 3.04 GAA, and a .910 SV%. A small decline from the season before. The COVID shortened 2020-21 season would see another decline in numbers from Georgiev. In 18 starts Georgiev would post an 8-7-2, suggesting Igor Shesterkin came in relief and won the Rangers a game at one point. His GAA would see a substantial rise, posting a 2.71, but his SV% would drop again this season, this time to a .905.
The 21-22 season, his last in The Big Apple, saw him decline in numbers once again. Georgiev would record a 2.91 GA and a .898 SV%, and he would only start 28 of the Rangers 82 games, going 15-10-2. Rumblings of a trade would follow him all season, as his agent declined rumors that the Bulgarian netminder requested a trade out of New York in the summer leading up to this prior season.
Rangers fans are generally happy about the trade due to a tight salary cap making keeping Georgiev unfeasible. “He basically joined the team at the start of the Rangers rebuild, so the team in front of him was never very good. He did well as the backup to a legendary goaltender in King Henrik, and I think he thought that he would be the heir to take over when Lundqvist retired. I think his downfall in New York started with the arrival of Shesterkin,” my friend Matthew Segal had to say regarding Georgiev’s tenure as a Ranger.
While it’s unlikely Georgiev will disclose his headspace during his tenure in New York, the idea that some confidence issues seeped in when Shesterkin became the future. Back before Igor made his debut in a 5-2 defeat of the Avalanche on January 8, 2020, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Russian netminder. He had been producing a lot of hype playing over in the KHL at a very young age, and his brief stint in the AHL to help him get acclimated to North American ice only enhanced the hype, as he posted a 1.90 GAA and a .934 SV% with the Wolf Pack in 25 games.
It’s safe to say the Rangers currently have a top three netminder in the NHL as Shesterkin undoubtedly belongs in a tier with Andrei Vasilevsky of Tampa Bay, and Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg. Georgiev however went from showing promise as a potential No. 1 of the future after Lundqvist, to being outshined by a guy at the exact same age. The loss of a huge opportunity can definitely cloud your headspace and cause issues for mental preparedness, especially in the mental battle that is NHL goaltending. A turning of the page could be exactly what Georgiev needs to get back to that starter potential he flashed prior to the turn of the decade, and the Avalanche will be able to support him very well.
Georgiev’s strengths in the crease: He has the ability to be unbeatable.
While his time in New York was bumpy, Georgiev has been good for some unreal performances at the NHL level. Avalanche fans have been pretty fortunate for the strong defensive system Jared Bednar has enabled in this team, but Georgiev hasn’t always been so lucky, as he has been behind some terrible defensive structure with the Rangers in years past. While guys like Grubauer, Kuemper, and his new tandem partner Francouz have been fortunate to see low-volume action more often than high-octane action, Georgiev has had to pull out some phenomenal performances to steal the Rangers the hockey game.
1: 55 save performance on his 23rd birthday vs Toronto Maple Leafs (Feb. 10, 2019)
While Rangers fans were sadly watching the downfall of an aging Henrik Lundqvist, a 23-year-old Georgiev raised a lot of eyebrows and opened a lot of eyes on the evening of February 10, 2019. The offensive dynamo that is the Maple Leafs strolled into Madison Square Garden looking to snag an easy two points but slammed into a Bulgarian Brick Wall. Georgiev would stop 55 of the 56 shots he saw that night, only beaten blocker side by a laser of a shot from Kasperi Kapanen on a partial breakaway, and would make some incredible, yet routine saves on the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri, on the way to a 4-1 win for the Rangers. This was the first instance of what Rangers fans thought would be the future in net.
2: 45 save performance vs Toronto Maple Leafs (Mar. 23, 2019)
If Bednar is actually as smart as we think he is, he’ll start Georgiev in both meetings with Toronto this season, as Georgiev seems to love playing this team. Just 16 weeks after his 55 save performance, he stonewalled the Leafs yet again, this time posting a more passive 45 saves. The one goal Georgiev allowed in this one was off of a broken pinball puck play where the puck just magically landed on Zach Hyman’s stick after bouncing through some traffic, nothing any NHL goaltender would be expected to stop, as how can a human track such craziness? This game would be a tight one, with the Rangers squeaking one out in OT off of a Ryan Strome goal.
3: 44 save shutout vs Carolina Hurricanes (Mar. 20, 2022)
A more recent example showing how Georgiev has the unbeatable trait inside of him is this shutout performance against the Hurricanes. Up until this game, the Rangers had not beaten the Hurricanes in the 2021-22 season, and the narrative that the Canes had the Ranger’s number was set in the minds of many. Georgiev had been in a bit of a slump prior to this game, and this performance was a great reminder that he has it in him to elevate his game. Hopefully, goalie coach Jussi Parkkila can maximize this potential.
Georgiev has exceptional athleticism
Andrei Vasilevskiy is as unbeatable as he is because to go along with his 6’5 frame, he is also exceptionally athletic. When he isn’t in a position to eat the first shot, he’ll recover with an eye-popping athletic save that has the shooter looking to the rafters. While Georgiev doesn’t have the size (only measuring in at 6’1), he makes up for that shortcoming with great athleticism. Segal attributes this athletic ability to his strong lateral movement by saying “he’s pretty strong going laterally and can often make a tough save look easy.” It’ll be interesting to see how Parkkila’s practices intertwine with Georgiev’s lateral movement. As reported by Jesse Montano of DNVR Sports, Parkkila has a different way of lateral movement than most. Parkkila has his goaltenders do a little skip when moving laterally, rather than sliding. This helps goaltenders have more control when moving from left to right.
Georgiev’s weaknesses as a goaltender: He leaves a lot to be desired on breakaways
While it’s tough to routinely ask Goaltenders to make that big stop when your defense leaks an occasional breakaway, sometimes your team could really use that big save, and Georgiev’s breakaway execution may be his biggest shortcoming. Segal was short and sweet with this flaw. “It was always a running gag [among the fanbase] that he couldn’t stop a breakaway,” he states. One can only wonder if Pavel Francouz can help him out with that. Francouz is also a very small player at his position at 6’0 but is known amongst Avs fans to be a monster at shutting down breakaway opportunities. From one smaller guy to another, Francouz could really help Georgiev grow this aspect of his game.
He can be very streaky, with a high ceiling but a low basement:
Avs fans shouldn’t be overly concerned with this bit, as Sakic has been able to identify the talent hiding under the surface in players, and getting very solid results out of players who need to find their game. My two favorite examples of this are Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky. Sometimes a chance in an elevated role is all a player needs to find their footing at the NHL level, and those two got just that with the Avs. Nichushkin went from nearly out of the league entirely in 2019, to being considered one of the top 200-foot players in the NHL in a span of three seasons. Burakovsky was a serviceable 3rd line scorer when the Avs acquired him in 2019, and he’s now produced three 40+ point seasons, and one 60+ point season, primarily in a top-six role.
While skaters and goaltenders are very different situations, it shouldn’t be difficult to put trust and faith into the Avs coaching staff that they can get consistently solid results out of Georgiev. “He could have a game where he looks like he is an AHL goalie or he can be extremely hot and look like the second coming of Patrick Roy,” Segal says. The floor is always a scary thought, but it’s difficult to expect anything more out of the Avs staff. This team is two weeks removed from a Stanley Cup Championship largely thanks to some genius acquisitions from Sakic, as well as excellent work from the coaching staff, and the pro scouts.
Do you think Georgiev can be a solution?
My answer is absolutely. It’s hard to not believe in the Avs putting stock into Alexandar Georgiev. They see something special in the 26-year-old Goaltender, and they have one of the top coaching staff in the NHL. Should Georgiev maintain a starting role, he has shown he can thrive in that role. There was a stretch this past season that saw Igor Shesterkin miss a month with an injury. Georgiev took the keys to the ship and navigated the waters very nicely. From December 4, 2021, to January 10, 2022, Georgiev posted a 5-4-1 record, but with a 2.11 GAA and a .929 SV%. The record could be better, but the numbers indicate that he wasn’t the problem in this month of hockey.
This could be a perfect sample of what a ceiling could look like for Georgiev in a starting role in Denver, and I think he at the very least, gets very close to this ceiling. “I think now is put up or shut up time for Georgiev. Often this season after he played he told the media he wants more ice time. Now is his opportunity to prove why. I’m not sure how he will do but I’ll make a prediction - .915 save percentage he’ll finish the year with. I think playing behind a team that wants him and a team with sound defensive structure has a good defense will benefit him so much,” says Segal.
Even a .915 save percentage will give the Avs the opportunity to win a lot of hockey games this season. They’re coming off a historic season, and the best season in franchise history. With other players like Kadri and Burakovsky likely gone, as well as uncertainty around Josh Manson, there will be some changes that make last season difficult to replicate, but this will still be a dangerous hockey team. Georgiev will have all the support in the world from the organization and his teammates going into this fresh start, and for how fantastic of a job Sakic and company have done in building this team over the last few years, the fanbase just needs to put their trust into the Bulgarian Brick Wall.