Semyon Varlamov

Could Colorado’s zany goaltending experiment actually work out?

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Later on today, I’m going to reveal my list of teams who botched their goaltending situations during this off-season (or at least failed to address those problem areas). There are two teams whose moves might just be crazy enough to work, though.

I’ll cover the New York Islanders’ potentially engrossing soap opera that probably won’t happen later on, but first I’d like to discuss the other team who might be wiser than people realize: the Colorado Avalanche. It’s not a popular track to take, but even considering some significant red flags, it’s still not that outrageous to wonder if their plan might work out.

Before I explain why Colorado’s duo might work better than expected, let me point out some of the flaws of their plan.

  • Obviously, the Avalanche gave up way too much to acquire Varlamov. It would be fascinating to hear the conversations that took place between the Washington Capitals and Avalanche front offices, because George McPhee must have spun quite the tale to convince Colorado that a first and second round pick represented fair market value for a goalie they had no intention of re-signing.
  • There’s also no denying that Varlamov has as a small body of work. The Russian goalie has only played 59 regular season games and 19 playoff contests in his short NHL career. Injuries might be a bigger worry for Varlamov than Colorado’s weak defense next season.
  • I also agree that the Avs took a surprising risk by giving Jean-Sebastien Giguere a two-year deal. Giguere has an impressive resume, but he looked downright awful at times in Toronto. Much like the Varlamov trade, it seemed like Colorado overspent on their probable backup.

OK, so those are the biggest things working against Colorado’s goalie moves. With that out of the way, here’s why their decisions might actually pay off.

source: APA quick reminder that Varlamov has actually been a good NHL goalie

If there’s one line of thought that has absolutely stunned me this off-season, it’s the argument that Varlamov was clearly the third best goalie in Washington. I know that the Internet generates a certain brand of short-term thinking, but saying that Braden Holtby is a better goalie than Varlamov after he played 14 (admittedly impressive) games is hasty at best.

The funniest part is that although Varlamov’s 10-11 season was wrecked by injuries, his stats were actually outstanding. His win loss record was mediocre (11-9-5) but he had a dazzling .924 save percentage and 2.23 GAA. If you really want to weigh wins and losses even though it’s largely an unfair way of judging a goalie, his career record is 30-13-12 with a nice .917 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

Varlamov’s been almost as good in the playoffs, too; you might recall that he saved the day for Washington when Jose Theodore fell to pieces. While his 10-9 record might be enough for people to somehow condemn his overall game, his save percentage was .915 with a 2.45 GAA. Maybe those aren’t world-class numbers, but they show that Varlamov can give his team a chance to win big games.

Again, he hasn’t played a lot of games, but whatever stylistic quibbles people might have with Varlamov, the numbers paint him in a very flattering light. He’s also known as a fairly athletic goalie, which will probably come in handy considering Colorado’s frequently lax defense.

source: APGiguere might not be awful.

Giguere has been average (at best) since the 2007-08 season. The smart money is on that trend continuing for the former Conn Smythe winner, especially since he’s not considered the most athletic netminder around. That being said, aside from James Reimer’s tiny sample of games in 2010-11, just about every Maple Leafs goalie looked awful during the past few years.

The Avalanche defense probably won’t make things much easier, but there’s an outside chance that Giguere might capture at least some of the magic from his days with the Anaheim Ducks.

I don’t like the contract they gave him, but there are worse backup gambles in the NHL.

***

The Avalanche are resting their hopes on two talented but hard-to-figure young players in Varlamov and Erik Johnson. We’ll wait until preview time to predict whether or not this experiment will work out, but many critics could look foolish if they dismiss their chances entirely.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.

Brooks Laich wants another crack at NHL (with or without Leafs)

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29:  Brooks Laich #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Tampa Bay Lightning during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 29, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Brooks Laich wants another shot at playing in the NHL. As he told The Atlantic TO (sub required), if that means being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then so be it.

“You don’t win a Stanley Cup playing in the American Hockey League,” Laich said. “If the Leafs don’t have a plan for me with them, I would like to pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else.”

Interesting.

Laich’s biased take: he has plenty more to give at the highest level.

Hmm, that … seems a little crazy. Few players see their best days at age 33 and beyond.

But what about his work with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies? Maybe he’s killing it there.

Well, if he is, his contributions aren’t showing in the simple counting stats. In 22 games this season, Laich has one goal and six points. He isn’t even firing a shot on goal per game (just 17 in those 22 contests).

Now, Laich wouldn’t sell you on his scoring skills. Face-offs might not be much of a calling card, either.

So … it’s easier to understand why he’s struggling to get a foothold in his career. Laich isn’t much of a scorer, isn’t dominant on the draw and isn’t someone who’s shown a history of dramatically tilting the ice in his team’s favor.

Does that mean he can’t be a fourth-line center, or failing that, at least a depth forward? Laich could conceivably be helpful to some team, even if it’s difficult to imagine anyone giving up anything but a minor asset for him.

And, yes, it’s crazy to imagine him exceeding anything he did with the Washington Capitals.

Avalanche say ankle injury ends Nikita Zadorov’s season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche congratulates Matt Duchene #9 after his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Pepsi Center on December 14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As if the Colorado Avalanche needed another miserable element to 2016-17: Nikita Zadorov suffered a season-ending injury during the same practice that Erik Johnson returned.

Zadorov injured his ankle after being tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during a Monday practice, according to the Denver Post.

Update: The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that it’s a fractured ankle. Yikes.

Zadorov, 21, is a big defenseman with the pedigree that would inspire teams to imagine better things in the future (16th pick in 2013 by Buffalo). So far, that potential hasn’t really manifested itself in production, whether you judge a player by points, plus/minus or possession numbers.

He may be able to put it together at some point – again, he’s young – so perhaps he’ll remember this as a low point before he turns things around.

At the moment, it’s just another grim part of a bleak time for the Avs.