Did the Avalanche Make the Right Call Keeping Berra Over Pickard?


The Colorado Avalanche have made a decision, and will be sending Calvin Pickard back to Lake Erie. This means Reto Berra is your backup in Denver, for the foreseeable future. There were a lot of factors at play in this decision, but ultimately, I think the Avalanche made the right choice. Here’s why.

1. Varlamov is going to get a boatload of starts

The Avs sit at 9-11-5, and have 5 points to make up just to catch the team in the final wild card position out west. Simply put, this team is going to need to win a large chunk of their remaining 57 games to have a real shot at the playoffs. Semyon Varlamov was the MVP of this team last year, and Roy surely is going to be riding his number one goaltender the rest of the way. In his own words, Roy said Varly “will play a lot.”

This means, in a lot of ways, that backup position isn’t all that critical. There is no denying, Calvin Pickard looks to be the superior goaltender at the moment relative to Berra. However, he would likely be sitting on the bench for all but a few games anyways, if he stayed in Denver. Might as well let Berra be the guy who sits around doing nothing at this point.

Nov 13, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers right wing

Mats Zuccarello

(36) shoots on Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

2. Calvin Pickard’s development

Patrick Roy attributed a lot of Pickard’s success, to the fact he has gotten a lot of regular playing time. Avalanche fans have to keep in mind, that Calvin is still only 22 years old. We have no idea how he would respond to having a couple weeks off between starts. This is something that I could see impacting a young goaltender. Especially a young goalie, who is used to the rhythm of playing a couple times a week.

He opened everybody’s eyes and made a great statement for himself, and he should be proud.” –Patrick Roy on Calvin Pickard

Long term, Pickard is a much more valuable asset than Reto Berra. The Avalanche want to put him in the best position to succeed. In my opinion, that means giving him a lot of playing time in Lake Erie.

Would Pickard still be able to learn and develop practicing with the Avalanche, and working with Roy and Francois Allaire? Sure. But, I still think starting minutes are more valuable for Pickard long-term.

The last thing the Avalanche want to do, is stall out his development. Pickard’s ceiling might be even higher than what we saw in these past couple weeks.

3. The Reto Berra problem doesn’t go away by sending him to the minors

The problem with Berra, is including this season, he is under contract for 3 more years. His cap hit is $1.45M over those three seasons. Sending him to the minors reduces that cap-hit to somewhere in the $500K range, but the Avalanche still are on the hook to pay him his full NHL salary.

Short-term, I’m sure Roy and Sakic could convince the guy writing the checks to do this, but long-term there is no way the Avs are going to pay this guy that $1.45M annually to tend the net in Cleveland.

There is a slim chance that a team would have claimed Reto Berra on waivers if they sent him down. This would have saved the Avs from a lot of headaches.

However, if you believe this would have happened, I recommend you ask Taylor Swift out on a date. Or whichever celeb babe tickles your fancy. Lady readers, I dunno who the male heart-throbs are these days, so that’s all on you.

The point is, Berra is a problem, because of his contract. If he continues to be a liability in net, the Avalanche are going to have a real bummer of a situation on their hands, and they won’t have a lot of great options to rectify it.

Roy and Sakic are probably hoping, they can find a way to trade Berra, and move him out of Colorado at this point. For that to happen, he’s going to have to put up a better showing than he has so far the rest of the season. To me, that is the idealistic scenario.

The other option is to buy out the contract of Reto Berra next June. The problem with this is the Avalanche will suffer a cap penalty of $490K through the 2018-19 season. As of today, the Avalanche sit roughly $1.2M under the cap. With Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon, and Tyson Barrie all due big raises in the near future, the Avalanchce can’t afford to have that blemish on their books.

Look at Chicago and Boston. They both lost high quality defenseman, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, respectively, because of salary-cap issues.

Nov 4, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Reto Berra (20) before the game against the Vancouver Canucks at Pepsi Center. The Canucks won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Moving forward

Ultimately, the Avalanche have created a bit of a pickle for themselves. It is easy to feel a bit panicky and overwhelmed as a fan, but the best bet is to just remain calm. Berra has shown he is capable of playing good hockey. His big issue has been inconsistency.

In history, NHL GM’s are also prone to doing funny things. You  never know when a team will be desperate for a goaltender, and perhaps that will time up nicely with Berra being on a bit of a hot streak.

I think the Avalanche should look to trade Reto Berra, at the first opportunity they get. He has a career save-percentage below 0.900 for his career in the NHL. He’s soon to be 28 years old. I just don’t trust him going forward, and don’t think his upside is worth the risk. Especially when you have a stud named Pickard waiting in the wings.

For now, Avs fans should invest the majority of their prayers to the hockey gods, to the cause of Semyon Varlamov staying healthy. That is much more important than who wears the baseball cap on the bench. And perhaps a few prayers for Matt Duchene, that the post will start pinging pucks into the net.