When Reto Berra was traded to the Colorado Avalanche I was both excited and horrified. Excited because he was a blast to watch in Calgary — he had no form and was diving around the crease like a latter day Dominik Hasek. Horrified because the fact he had to dive around the crease like a fish out of water meant he had terrible fundamentals.
But Berra has emerged as a solid goaltender this year for the Colorado Avalanche while Semyon Varlamov has struggled. Let’s take a look at Berra’s development and what it means for the Avs going forward.
Holy Crap Did You See That!? (Berra’s Calgary Days)
Awesome! But also, what is he doing, he just slid wayyyy past the post. Kinda a bad spot to be in when you’re trying to block the net. This is about a picture perfect example of instinctual and unfundamental goaltending. He knows the puck’s to his right and pushes hard to cover the short side of the net, but overslides by nearly the entire net. Definitely cool to watch! But also definitely not how I would want my goaltender playing that.
And of course his most famous save:
Again, awesome! Even more awesome! But he was already in pretty good position. Staying in the butterfly and upright, like we talked about the other day in a post about why Semyon Varlamov is struggling, will make that save a much higher percentage of the time. Yes he got a lot of style points, but even if he was at one point a world class soccer player (he wasn’t), it’s a lot easier to make that save with his shoulder and/or blocker then trying to kick it out of the air from his back.
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And that lack of form was largely why his save percentage was south of .900% in Calgary and was an abysmal, (and I don’t use that word often), .781% his first year with the Avalanche.
But there’s a reason he was brought in by Sakic/Roy. He showed some great instincts and was decent even without form. I mean look at this save on Alexander Steen from his time with Calgary:
I have no idea why he decided that his stick wouldn’t be useful for guarding his five hole, or possibly a poke check. But to be able to read the fake shot by Steen and get that pad out there is phenomenal. Those instincts are the reason that the Colorado Avalanche decided to acquire him.
Berra’s Emergence With The Colorado Avalanche
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
In a lot of ways his development hasn’t been that different from Varlamov’s; they both came over as raw, yet talented goaltenders. They’ve been taught well by the legendary Francois Allaire.
And the work is paying off for Berra, who’s 9th in the league in save percentage for goalies who have played in 10 or more games. He’s also already tied for second in shutouts in the league, despite only playing in 13 games, including a ridiculous performance against Anaheim where he made 35 saves.
The best part about his play, though, is we’re not seeing any of his trademark gymnastic saves. He’s been solid fundamentally, and as a result hasn’t needed to dive across the crease or roll on his back (not that he ever needed to do the latter). The best save a goaltender can make is with his chest, and Berra has been extremely good at squaring up to shooters and making the easy save.
What Does This Mean For The Colorado Avalanche?
There is downside, however, to Berra’s emergence this year in net however. Going off the assumption he continues to play good hockey, and that Roy is going to play whoever is the better goaltender at the moment, Berra may start the majority of the games for the year to come. That leaves Varly sitting on the bench taking in a nice 5.9 mil/ year to be a back up. It also denies the chance for Calvin Pickard, widely regarded to be the Avs goalie of the future, to get any NHL work.
Pickard is still young by goalie standards at 23, but with Varlamov signed through the 2018-19 season, Berra really doesn’t have a chance to be the starter. The Avalanche simply can’t let 5.9 million dollars sit as a back up. Especially because any trade value Varly has is festering away as he sits on the bench.
In reality, Varlamov is going to get every chance possible to regain his form and his starting spot, no matter what it means when it comes to winning games. Between his cap hit and his Hart- and Vezina-trophy worthy season in 2013-2015, not to mention he played decent last year, he has earned too much good will to sit on the bench. And we all know how bad GMs and coaches are at evaluating sunk costs.
There’s a good possibility that Varlamov regains his form, and after he carried the team to the playoffs two years ago I really hope he does. But at the moment Berra is the better goaltender, and that puts Roy in a very tight spot that will affect not just the team this year, but the goaltender position and development for years to come.