Report: Avs to protect Varlamov, expose Pickard for expansion draft


Colorado GM Joe Sakic thinks Semyon Varlamov is a key piece of the team, and is apparently ready to prove it.

According to BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater, the Avalanche are going to protect Varlamov at the upcoming expansion draft, meaning 24-year-old Calvin Pickard will be eligible to be selected by Las Vegas.

The move will undoubtedly raise eyebrows. Varlamov, who turns 29 later this month, has two years left on a five-year, $29.5 million deal. His $5.9M cap hit is the 12th highest among all goalies, but his numbers have taken a precipitous fall over the last few campaigns.

Some of that’s to do with chronic hip and groin problems, culminating in a disastrous ’16-17 season in which he was in and out of the lineup, starting just 23 games before undergoing season-ending surgery in January.

To hear Sakic explain it, losing Varlamov played a big role in Colorado’s awful season.

“Our goaltending situation, with [Varlamov] being out, we might as well say the whole year with his issues, that snowballed,” Sakic told the Denver Post.

The veteran Russian may well indeed be a big part of the team.

But is it worth protecting him?

It could be argued that, given his age and contract, Varlamov wouldn’t be on Vegas’ radar anyway. There are rumblings that Golden Knights GM George McPhee — who had Varlamov in Washington, only to trade him to Colorado amid a contract squabble — would prefer go young and cheap.

Pickard, a former second-round pick, carries a $1M cap hit and has shown well in the past, posting a .922 save percentage or better in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The Avs thought Pickard had enough ability to challenge Varlamov for the No. 1 gig, and actually used him quite a bit at the beginning of the season — before everything went pear-shaped.

Simply put, Pickard would appear a more likely target for Vegas than Varlamov.

Which is why this decision will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. There’s a very legitimate scenario in which the Avs could expose Varlamov, protect Pickard and end up with both on the roster come next season.

But that doesn’t appear to be the direction Sakic will go.