Tag: contrarian thoughts

Semyon Varlamov

Could Colorado’s zany goaltending experiment actually work out?


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.

Could this six-game slump be a ‘good’ thing in the long run for the Washington Capitals?


Aside from a literal example in Alex Ovechkin’s scrum with Brandon Dubinsky, the Washington Capitals didn’t show much fight against the New York Rangers tonight. Madison Square Garden was the sight of the Capitals’ sixth consecutive loss by a staggering score of 7-0.

This is the first six-game losing streak for the Capitals since March 2007, according to Katie Carrera.

Upon their fifth straight defeat, Joe wondered if it was time for the Capitals to worry. On one hand, there are certainly some troubling signs. The typically torrid Washington offense has only produced eight goals in that six game skid while their now-shaky goalies allowed 22 (although the seven allowed tonight by Semyon Varlamov certainly makes that number a little worse). It’s expected that their penalty kill isn’t elite, but one power-play goal allowed per game (six power-play goals allowed in 24 penalty kills during the skid) is pretty troubling. More worrisome might be their normally high octane power play, which only produced three goals in 26 opportunities over those six games.

So, yes, there is some reason to be worried. But let me throw out a wildly different hypothesis: maybe such a slump is exactly what Washington needs?*

In the last few seasons, Ovechkin and the Capitals cruised through regular seasons as their chests grew increasingly puffy and their arrogance skyrocketed. While I think that they brought plenty of effort in that stunning series against the Montreal Canadiens, the bottom line is that a first round defeat was tremendously disappointing.

The thing is, the team didn’t need to face much soul searching or adversity in the 2009-10 season until they ran up against a brick wall in the form of Jaroslav Halak. I’m sure a Capitals fan will dig up some obscure flu bug that hit the team during winter months (or something), but the bottom line is that teams tend to develop true chemistry with their backs up against the wall.

So why not have your first “gut check” moments in December rather than in April, when the margin of error is close to zero? It’s not safe to say that every championship team hit a low point like the Capitals are experiencing, but there is some precedent to the concept of bonding through tough times. The 2008-09 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t even look like they were going to make the playoffs until as late as February, for example.

Look, I’m not saying that every contending hockey team benefits from the “palate cleansing” experience that comes from a losing streak. But for a team that is becoming the “San Jose Sharks: East” (considering their red-hot regular season runs and playoff disappointments), they might benefit from learning how much they hate losing before they can win the games that truly matter.

* Or maybe they just need offensive defenseman/catalyst Mike Green to return? The hockey media’s go-to Caps scapegoat hasn’t played in a game since November 28th; the Capitals won exactly once since then.