Semyon Varlamov: Time for an Avalanche Goalie Change


Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov had a stellar 2013-14 season. He played an impressive 63 games and went an even more impressive 41-14-6. He recorded a rock solid .927 save percentage and decent .241 goals against average.

This was one season in seven. Career-wise, Varlamov has gone 137-94-32. His average save percentage is .917 and his average goals against is 2.57. (To give a comparison, Boston Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask’s career save percentage is .925 with a goals against average of 2.19.)

This season Semyon Varlamov has a save percentage of .841 and a GAA of 5.06.

That is not adequate to be a Colorado Avalanche goalie.

The Hypocrisy of Semyon Varlamov

Avalanche fans love Semyon Varlamov. I posed a poll questioning whether Colorado fans would be willing to trade Varlamov for current Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Out of 186 votes, a full 45% stated they would never trade Varlamov for Price.

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Montreal Canadiens fans, on the other hand, questioned my sanity — and sobriety — for even suggesting the trade. Carey is accounted an elite goalie. Varlamov… not so much outside of Colorado.

The hypocrisy comes in people’s blind faith in Semyon Varlamov.

Center Matt Duchene has had a couple questionable seasons, and Avs Nation has been all too willing to put him on the trading block. Yet this is a player who has both Olympic and IIHF gold, has represented the Avalanche at the All Star Game and whose long-lasting love for the team is well-documented.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog is an Olympic silver medalist and Calder Trophy winner with the charisma of a movie star and leadership of a politician. Yet last season Avs Nation was calling for a strip of his captaincy after the team’s slow start.

Head coach Patrick Roy won the Vezina Trophy three times, the Conn Smythe Trophy three times, the Stanley Cup four times, appeared in 11 All Star Games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. As a coach he led his QMJHL team to the playoffs every single year and won the Jack Adams his first year as an NHL coach. Yet a faction of Avs Nation regularly questions his decisions, and some even suggest he should be fired.

Semyon Varlamov…. was a Vezina Trophy finalist. That’s it. Yet that, coupled with the season that allowed him to be a finalist, is enough for Avs Nation to give him an eternal pass.

That is a level of hypocrisy I cannot understand, much less abide by.

Patrick Roy’s Kryptonite

My reverence for Patrick Roy as a goalie and a coach is well documented. After all, I run a regular column called “The Gospel According to Roy.” And I’m not joking in that’s how high I hold Roy’s opinion when it comes to hockey.

If there’s one area of hockey that Patrick Roy should be considered an expert, it’s goal tending. After all, this is a player who literally revolutionized the sport with his play.

“Varly doesn’t have the start that I’m sure he wants, but at the same time, you look at the goals he gave up in the second, no help.” ~Patrick Roy during post-game presser.

Yet ironically, goal tending is the one area that it appears Patrick Roy doesn’t see clearly as a coach.

It’s psychology. Goal tending is an extraordinarily demanding position. Goalies are asked to overcome their own instincts and block an object speeding at them, often right at their heads. Skaters can make mistakes left and right without notice, but as soon as a goalie makes a mistake, everyone knows because it results in a goal.

Patrick Roy knows extremely well the pressure of being a goalie. I daresay he became quirkier and more arrogant than he would have been as a skater.

In Roy’s rookie NHL season as a coach, Semyon Varlamov was phenomenal. Therefore, in coach Roy’s eyes, Varlamov is a phenomenal goalie. And coach Roy is going to give his goalie the kind of support he feels a goalie deserves.

That’s ultimately Patrick Roy’s kryptonite. Semyon Varlamov is nowhere near a Patrick Roy is ability. At best he’s a Devan Dubnyk — hate all you want, it’s true.

Avalanche Goal Tending Situation

Semyon Varlamov is capable of making phenomenal saves. He’s also capable of stealing games.

This is not extraordinary. To make it as an NHL goalie, you should be capable of making phenomenal saves and stealing games. Every NHL goalie — including backup Reto Berra — has done so one time or another.

Being a goalie for the Colorado Avalanche is a tough assignment. Avalanche hockey was developed with Patrick Roy as the goal tender. That’s tough. This is a man who was capable of backing up the promise “You only have to get two goals to win, because I’m not allowing more than one.” It didn’t matter how many shots he faced — he was going to be the equal of the task.

For better or worse, that’s the expectation of Avalanche goalies now. The team’s style is based on speed and offense with some grit. It’s up to the goalie to clean up the mess left by that style.

I don’t think Semyon Varlamov is up to the task. He could do quite well with a defensive-minded team such as the Minnesota Wild or New Jersey Devils. However, it appears he’s not capable of “cleaning up the mess” left by Avalanche hockey.

So, where does that leave Avalanche goal tending? In a bit of a purgatory, it seems. Colorado needs a better goalie. However, phenomenal goalies aren’t just up for grabs. The team could potentially trade for a phenomenal goalie down the line, but it would likely cost a core offensive or even defensive player. Stiff price, in other words.

Reto Berra is certainly not up to the task. Calvin Pickard might be eventually, but his implementation as the #1 goalie right now would be a declaration that the season is lost.

So, what are the Colorado Avalanche to do? Well, the only answer is the team must become more like the Minnesota Wild or the New Jersey Devils. The team must become a defensive-minded group. Defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Brandon Gromley should be put on permanent hiatus in favor of shut-down defensemen Brad Stuart and Nate Guenin.

Forwards Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen should be drilled in the art of back checking. Because with Semyon Varlamov as their goalie, they cannot indulge in the exciting offense-first hockey that has always characterized the Colorado Avalanche.

That’s the reality of the goal tending situation in Colorado. That’s the reality of Semyon Varlamov.

Patrick Roy quote from post-game presser.

Next: Is Roy Calling the Wrong Shots?

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