Heading into the off-season, the Colorado Avalanche’s future in net was a little blurry. Now it’s clear that Philipp Grubauer will be their go-to guy.
On Friday, the Avalanche sent the 47th pick to the Washington Capitals for Grubauer, also absoring Brooks Orpik‘s contract. Today, Colorado got the wheels turning on a buyout for Orpik, and reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with Grubauer.
The three-year pact will be worth about $10 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie. If that’s accurate, the 26-year-old would carry about a $3.33M cap hit from 2018-19 through 2020-21. Do note that the Avalanche haven’t made the signing official just yet.
So, let’s consider the cost, then:
- Cap hit between Grubauer and Orpik in 2018-19: About $5.83M.
- In 2019-20: About $4.83M.
- 2020-21: Just Grubauer’s $3.3M.
- Also, the 47th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, which ended up being Kody Clark, Wendel Clark’s son.
Not exactly cheap, but the Avalanche have a pretty clean slate, and Grubauer was the most coveted goalie believed to be available this summer.
As usual with goalies, there are risks
Aside from brief struggles during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Grubauer’s passed just about every test thrown in way. In accruing 101 total regular-season games of NHL experience, Grubauer generated a strong .923 save percentage, the same mark he produced over 35 games during the 2017-18 campaign.
It’s easy to play hindsight 20/20 and say that Braden Holtby was “the clear choice” for the Capitals the whole time, but the truth is that Grubauer deserved that nod considering his superior play. While Holtby regained the starting job in Washington during the Stanley Cup run, Grubauer’s steadying presence was important.
Much like other rising backups, there’s a risk factor to investing heavily in Grubauer, who’s never carried a big workload.
The scariest comparison is probably Scott Darling.
Like Grubauer, Darling amassed a small but impressive resume as a backup for a good team. In Darling’s case, the towering goalie had only played 75 regular-season games for Chicago, generating a (wait for it) .923 save percentage, playing in 32 games during his final campaign with the Blackhawks. The Hurricanes are already regretting the four-year deal they handed to Darling, which carries a $4.15M cap hit.
There are plenty of counterpoints. Darling is three years older than Grubauer, and rarely excelled at other levels. Grubauer, on the other hand, put together respectable numbers in the ECHL and AHL before becoming a sturdy backup for the Caps.
Colorado likely hopes that Grubauer works out as well (or better) than more successful backup-turned-starters such as Antti Raanta and Cam Talbot.
Will the Avalanche roll with a platoon situation involving Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov, whose $5.9M cap hit is set to expire after 2018-19? That’s at least the public plan right now.
It wouldn’t be one bit surprising if the Avalanche tried to find a trade partner for Varlamov, an expensive performer who’s dealt with some injury issues and other concerns in recent years. (One can’t help but note that, amusingly, the Avalanche also sent quite a bit of future assets to Washington in hopes that Varlamov would fix their goalie issues. Life moves fast.)
A Grubauer – Varlamov duo would cost about $9.2M in cap space, while Varlamov’s salary ($5.75M) is only slightly cheaper than his $5.9M cap hit next season.
You would think that would be too rich for the Avs, but maybe Colorado would just eat the coast with the advantage being that Varlamov’s presence could help Grubauer ease into the No. 1 role?
With Varlamov seemingly on his way out sooner or later and valuable backup Jonathan Bernier headed out the door, the Avalanche are passing the torch to Grubauer.
We’ll see what happens regarding who the other goalie will be in Colorado, but either way, Grubauer gets his wish: to be the man. Will the Avalanche look back at this as a smart decision, or could this be another case where an understudy flops in a headlining role?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.