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.