Few teams have success in the NHL without homegrown goal tending, and the Colorado Avalanche need it bad.
The Colorado Avalanche need to draft and develop their own goalies. One very old and common belief around the NHL is teams need good goal tending if they hope to win. It has become increasingly clear however that teams need more than just good goal tending to win deep into April, May, and June. Teams need not only stellar goal tending, but quality goal tending depth as well.
What qualifies as good or great goaltending? This can sometimes be harder than expected to examine, but for me the simple and easy way to see how well a goalie is preforming is his save percentage.
I don’t necessarily think goals against average is the best measurement of a goalie. GAA seems to be more of a team statistic rather than a goalie specific one. This is especially true of Colorado. It’s well known the Avs have had a disturbing tendency of allowing 40+ shots a game. For example, say the Avalanche lose a game in which the opposing team gets 45 shots on goal and scores 4 goals (this was not an uncommon scenario within the last couple seasons). The GAA statistic says the goalie would have a 4.00. That’s bad. His save percentage however would be a .912. That’s not bad, that’s actually around league average.
To be fair, they are allowing less than league average in the shots against category so far this season. This certainly is an improvement from previous seasons.
So, how has the team done in recent seasons as far as save percentage? I’ll start with the 2013-2014 season. I didn’t include goalies who do not play more than 5 games during the season:
Combined: .923%. Team Point Total: 112
Combined: .922%. Team Point Total: 90
2015-2016: Semyon Varlomov – .914% in 57 games. Reto Berra – .922% in 14 games. Calvin Pickard – .922% in 20 games.
Combined: .916%. Team Point Total: 82
Combined: .900% Team Point Total: 48
This is not a coincidence. Of course save percentage doesn’t tell the whole tale in regards to a season, but the trend cannot be ignored.
If the Avs are going to start winning on a consistent basis, they will need good goaltending. As well as they have been scoring this season (especially at home), there will be times when the goals simply aren’t coming. They will need Varlomov and Jonathan Bernier to be on their games if the Avs hope to win. Recent history, however, is not on the side of the Avs.
Semyon Varlomov’s save percentage has been steadily slipping over the past four years. This season he is currently at a .903%. That is simply not good enough for a starting goalie in this league. Whether you want to blame it on injuries or on a sub-par team in front of him, he needs to be better. He’s 29 and with his injury history (especially his groin), there’s no certainty he will return to Vezina candidate form and be this team’s goalie for the future.
Jonathan Bernier is not the goalie of the future for Colorado. He can be a serviceable back-up for 25 games or so, but given his past performances and age (29 as well) it seems he won’t be a starting goalie for a cup-contending team.
Just to cap it off, there really aren’t any goalies in the system that show much promise of becoming a quality NHL starter.
I’d like to switch gears and take a look at the previous Stanley Cup winners over the past 10 years and their starting goalie (or goalies) for the playoffs:
2015-2015: Pittsburgh Penguins (Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury)
2014-2015: Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford)
2013-2014: Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick)
2012-2013: Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford)
2011-2012: Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick)
2010-2011: Boston Bruins (Tim Thomas)
2009-2010: Chicago Blackhawks (Antti Niemi)
2008-2009: Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury)
2007-2008: Detroit Red Wings (Chris Osgood)
The pattern I want to show is that of 7 goalies listed, 5 of them won the cup with the team that drafted them.
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Many of the best starting goalies in the league are also with the team that drafted them. Of course there are a few exceptions, but it seems to be a clear that the easiest route to getting quality goaltending is through the draft.
Acquiring top-quality goaltending from another team is possible, but it usually means giving up a moderate to hefty price. Frederik Andersen was acquired by the Maple Leafs from the Ducks for a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick. Cam Talbot cost the Oilers a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 7th round pick. Sergei Bobrovsky cost the Blue Jackets a 2nd and two 4th round picks. Varlomov himself cost the Avs a 1st and a 2nd.
The problem is the Avalanche have not had a great deal of success when it comes to drafting NHL starting goalies. Since the 1st Colorado Avalanche franchise draft in 1995, the only goalies to play in at least 50 NHL games are as follows:
1997: David Aebischer (214)
2001: Peter Budaj (361)
2010: Calvin Pickard (86)
This is a very short list. It should also be noted everyone listed played games for teams not named the Avalanche (Pickard technically hasn’t yet, but he will soon enough).
To be fair, Patrick Roy as a franchise goalie for the first 8 years of a Colorado’s existence probably allowed them focus on the other positions first. Even so, the scouting department had to know Roy wasn’t going to be around forever. After Roy retired, the Avs drafted a few goalies in the first 3 rounds but nothing substantial came from it. Whether that’s from poor scouting or poor development, it left the Avs with a hole in the farm system in net.
Looking forward, the Avs have a great chance to snag a goalie in the next few seasons. Thanks to the Matt Duchene trade, the Avs have 9 picks in the 1st three rounds of the 2018 and 2019 draft. If the right goalie at the right pick is available, they need to take whoever it is and they need to develop him properly. It’s been too long since the Avalanche have had a legitimately exciting goalie prospect.