Colorado Avalanche: The Case for Calvin Pickard as Backup Goaltender


Before the Colorado Avalanche starts into the much-anticipated 2015-16 campaign, they will have to find a solution to the current goalie controversy. While Semyon Varlamov is the clear-cut No. 1 in net, Reto Berra and Calvin Pickard will have to battle out the backup spot. A case can be made for both of them, but let’s take a look at Calvin Pickard first.

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In 2014-15, Pickard gave his NHL debut. He appeared in 16 games for the Avalanche, and got sent up and down between the NHL and AHL a total of eight times — the demotion in training camp included. So how did he make a case for himself?

Through the 16 games played, Pickard posted a .932 save percentage. That was not only Avalanche-best, but also fourth in the entire NHL. The only goaltenders with better numbers were Andrew Hammond (.938), Antti Raanta (.936) and Scott Darling (.936), according to

It was just a small sample size, just like it was for the three other top goalies, but some other interesting stats show how well Pickard really did. Let’s have a look at a Colorado Avalanche goalie chart from

The chart shows every Avalanche goalie’s adjusted save percentage (definition here, if needed) and shots faced per 60, as well as games played and overall shots faced.

Pickard’s adjusted save percentage actually isn’t that much better than Berra’s or Varlamov’s, it just looks that way in a square chart. Nevertheless, it is better than Varlamov’s by .7 percent, which is almost a goal per 100 shots faced. Extrapolated to 1800 shots — which is what the Avs’ starting goalie will face in a season — that makes a difference of 13 goals against.

Related: Reto Berra Should be Colorado Avalanche Backup Goalie

Furthermore, Pickard has faced quite a few more shots per 60 than Berra and Varlamov. One reason could be that Varlamov, Johnson and MacKinnon were all injured at the same time. Johnson is the anchor of the Colorado Avalanche defense, and MacKinnon tends to have some of the best possession stats on the team. That just makes Pickard’s save percentage even more impressive.

Still, having watched Pickard in the majority of those games, I have to admit that he got lucky in quite a few situations as well. His positioning wasn’t always perfect, but even when he got completely out of position, the opposing forwards didn’t seem to be able to find the back of the empty net. That’s one of the things you can get by with, when you only play 16 games, but it is also one of the things you improve on when you stay in the league for longer.

That said, there is no reason to bash Pickard. He has proven to be a great goalie, ready for an NHL backup role. The only thing now in his way is Berra’s one-way contract. If he outplays Berra in training camp, though, Pickard should be the easy choice for the backup role.

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What speaks against him is the fact that Varlamov is an elite goalie that usually plays around 60 games in a given season. Even if Pickard proved to be a reliable backup, coach Patrick Roy would likely want his star goalie in net for as many games as possible.

So, the question is if Pickard would be better off being the starter in the AHL, rather than playing 20 with the big guys, and spending the rest watching Varly from the bench. Luckily for him, there are enough examples currently in the NHL, who started out as backups, playing around 20 games, that will be starters next season (e.g. Martin Jones, SJ Sharks). It seems to be the way to go.

A case can be made for both Berra and Pickard, but Berra will have to do an outstanding job in training camp, if he wants to convince Roy to keep him up.

In your opinion, what would be the best way to handle the Colorado Avalanche goalie situation? Let us know in the comments!

Next: Calvin Pickard Must Use his Chance

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