The Colorado Avalanche will start a seven-game road trip along the East Coast in Philadelphia on Tuesday. One player who could give the team a much-needed boost is prospect goaltender Calvin Pickard.
A 4-9-1 record through 14 games is exactly the way the Colorado Avalanche did not want to start this season in. Unfortunately, it is reality now, and all coach Patrick Roy and GM Joe Sakic can do now is look for solutions to fix the position they are in. Only few of their recent roster moves seemed to help, but there is one they have yet to try: recall Calvin Pickard.
Pickard, 23, was one of the NHL’s best goalies last season, when he made his first 16 NHL appearances and posted a .932 save percentage. To many people’s surprise, he did not make the final roster cut in the preseason, resulting in another demotion to the American Hockey League, this time to the San Antonio Rampage. Both Pickard and Reto Berra had performed well in preseason, but when Roy had to make a decision, he obviously opted for Berra, as he is waiver-eligible and on a one-way contract.
Since then, things have changed. Former star goaltender Semyon Varlamov is struggling mightily this season. As of today, the Russian ranks 37th in save percentage at .890 and 38th in goals-against average at 3.26, among the league’s 43 goalies with at least five games played this season.
Berra, Varlamov’s backup, has been doing much better, as he sits at a .943 save percentage (4th in the league) and a 1.85 goals-against average (5th in the league). However, we know about Berra’s inconsistency and know that he probably should not become the Avalanche’s starter (ever).
Then there is Pickard. Among AHL goalies with at least five appearances, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2010 49th overall pick is second in save percentage at .942 and fifth in goals-against average at 1.94. He seems ready for the NHL, and he could help the Avalanche in different ways.
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Firstly, Pickard seems to be the Avalanche’s best goaltender right now. That does not mean he should be named NHL starter just yet, but he does certainly deserve a chance. As opposed to Varlamov and Berra, Pickard can consistently win games with his stellar performances.
Secondly, a goalie change always sends a message to the team. When a coach pulls his goalie after three early goals against in the first period, that does not mean he lost faith in the player. It just sends a message to the whole team: something needs to change right now. Calling up Pickard and letting him start a few games on the road trip would send a message to the entire team.
Last but not least, a new goalie battle can push all three of them. Varlamov does not want to lose his starting job, Berra wants to stay in the NHL and Pickard would want to play as much as possible — which could help the whole team.
But, with Pickard in Colorado, what will happen to Varlamov and Berra? As said, the goal would be for the three to push each other. Therefore, all three should stay in the NHL, battling for the two spots on the roster. Teams generally carry only two goaltenders, but Roy has done a lot of things that are not necessarily traditional.
Furthermore, having Pickard in the NHL would be great for the Avalanche’s other goalie prospects. Both Roman Will (SA Rampage) and Spencer Martin (Fort Wayne Comets) want to get AHL playing time, but are stuck behind Pickard.
As GM Sakic told The Denver Post, “the idea was for [Pickard] to back up what he was doing last year and have an MVP-type season which he is right now. For us there is no rush and he’s at that age where he needs to play a ton.” He also said the Avalanche currently has no goalie problems. While that may be true, Pickard could help the team nonetheless, and he would benefit from “playing a ton” in the NHL as well.
Pickard told The Denver Post that he “can’t control any type of call-ups” but feels like he can compete at the NHL level, which he will do when the time comes. If we believe Sakic, that might not happen before next year — but it certainly should.