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.

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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.

Duclair, mentioned in trade rumors, to be a healthy scratch tonight

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 25: Anthony Duclair #10 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 25, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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A situation worth monitoring in Arizona — Anthony Duclair will be in the press box for tonight’s game against the Blue Jackets, which head coach Dave Tippett classified as a “reset,” per the Republic.

Tippett did say Duclair would draw back into the lineup tomorrow, when the Coyotes take on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

This season has been a struggle for the 21-year-old, one of the key pieces acquired when Arizona traded Keith Yandle to the Rangers in March of 2015. Duclair started brightly for the Coyotes, scoring 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games last season, but his offensive production has fallen off a cliff in ’16-17 — he has just one goal and four points through 23 games, and his ice time has dropped to an average of 13:10 per night.

In Saturday’s loss to Columbus, Duclair had the fourth-lowest TOI on the team, at 11:16.

As mentioned in the headline, Duclair’s name has recently surfaced in the rumor mill.

A few weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said he was “hearing teams are saying that Duclair could be had at the right price,” adding the Coyotes were looking for a “pretty penny” in return.

Kypreos’ comments were then followed by a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said the following on Insider Trading:

“John Chayka, the general manager, is not shopping Anthony Duclair but they’d consider it if there was a significant deal that made sense to them and brought a center back to the Arizona Coyotes.

“Duclair’s name actually surfaced in Buffalo at the draft in the summer, and more recently has re-surfaced. They’re not pushing him out the door, but like Bob [McKenzie] said with Dougie Hamilton in Calgary, the same thing applies with Duclair — they’re willing to listen.”

Part of the reason Arizona could be willing to move Duclair is its wealth of young talent on the wings. Lawson Crouse, Brendan Perlini and Max Domi are already there, and Chayka may be willing to trade from a position of strength.

Related: Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

Five backup goalies that aren’t getting it done

St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton reacts as Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) celebrates with teammates Patrik Laine, (29) of Finland, and Dustin Byfuglien (33) after scoring the winning goal of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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We did this same list about a year ago, when the likes of Alex Stalock and Anders Lindback were called out.

Stalock and Lindback are no longer in the league, and with today’s news that Jhonas Enroth has been waived by the Maple Leafs, here are five more backups that need to pull their games together:

Carter Hutton — Hutton is the Blues’ backup to Jake Allen, and it hasn’t been going well with his new team. The 30-year-old is 2-4-1 with an .888 save percentage, putting all the more pressure on Allen to win games, now that Brian Elliott isn’t there anymore. The Blues’ goaltending rarely fails to be interesting, and that’s the case again this season. Allen hasn’t been great either (.907), but at least he’s been winning (12-3-3).

James Reimer — He was supposed to be a reliable No. 2 behind Roberto Luongo, and perhaps even take over the No. 1 duties down the road. But Reimer has struggled since signing a five-year, $17 million contract with the Panthers on July 1. The 28-year-old is 3-4-1 with an .896 save percentage, which does not compare well to Luongo, the oldest goalie in the NHL, who’s 9-7-1 with a .929 save rate.

Darcy Kuemper — Typically, a bubble team like the Minnesota Wild can’t afford to have below-average backup goaltending. But that’s exactly what Kuemper has provided, going 2-2-1 with an .897 save percentage. His last start, he gave up five goals to the offensively challenged Vancouver Canucks in a 5-4 loss. Kuemper has only had one solid start this season, a 35-save victory over the Senators. Fortunately for the Wild, Devan Dubnyk (10-6-3, .946) has been beyond good, and that’s why they’re in a playoff spot for now.

Michael Hutchinson — Yes, goaltending remains a vulnerability in Winnipeg, even after Ondrej Pavelec was removed from the equation. Hutchinson is 3-4-2 with an .898 save percentage — not great numbers behind Connor Hellebuyck, who hasn’t been a whole lot better (10-9-0, .911). Hutchinson did play well Saturday in St. Louis, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 overtime win. He’ll need a few more of those efforts the rest of the way if the Jets are going to make the playoffs.

Anton Khudobin — Right off the bat, we must mention that Khudobin’s last start for the Boston Bruins was a very encouraging one. But his overall numbers, 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, put him on the list. Khudobin recently spent time in the AHL on a conditioning stint. He’s been good since his return from Providence, and he’ll need to keep being good behind Tuukka Rask, because the Bruins don’t want to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

Brendan Perlini
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Brendan Perlini, the forward Arizona took 12th overall at the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when the Coyotes take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

Perlini, 20, has been solid this year in AHL Tucson — his first full American League campaign — with 11 goals and 16 points through 16 games. He’s tied atop the league’s goalscoring leaderboard with three other players (including Toronto prospect Kasperi Kapanen), but Perlini has done it in the fewest amount of contests.

A former OHL standout with Niagara, Perlini is the latest example of the youth movement that’s taken over Arizona this season.

Some of the kids that have suited up include:

Jakob Chychrun, the 18-year-old defenseman taken 16th overall in June.

— 19-year-old Dylan Strome, who has since been returned to his junior club in OHL Erie.

Lawson Crouse, the 19-year-old power forward acquired from Florida this offseason.

— 20-year-old Christian Dvorak, the 58th overall pick in ’14.

Anthony DeAngelo, the 21-year-old d-man acquired from Tampa Bay at this year’s draft.

In addition to those guys, the club has also had “veterans” in the mix, like 21-year-old forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Laurent Dauphin.

As you might expect from such a young team, the Coyotes have struggled this season. They’re 8-11-4 heading into tonight’s action, but have done a decent job of getting points recently — they’re 3-2-2 over the last seven games, though they needed a career-high 58 saves from Mike Smith on Saturday to steal a point against the Jackets.

Flyers’ Mason named NHL’s first star of the week

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12), of Austria, congratulates goalie Steve Mason (35) following the team's win against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Steve Mason is the NHL’s first star of the week, and his save percentage is still just .904.

That number tells you how poorly he started the season. Because the Flyers’ goalie has been brilliant of late, going 4-0-0 with a .945 save percentage in his last four outings.

Mason’s strong run of play started not long after Michal Neuvirth went on the injured list.

“This is the situation I want to be in,” Mason told philly.com. “It’s a workload that all summer long you prepare for.”

The Flyers’ five straight wins (Anthony Stolarz was in goal for the first one) have propelled them into the first wild-card spot in the East, two points up on the Washington Capitals, who are suddenly feeling some urgency in the playoff race.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Martin Jones were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.