If the Colorado Avalanche are committed to developing their team for the future, should goalie Philipp Grubauer be getting more starts?
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov is having a very good season. In 13 starts, he’s gone 6-5-2 and recorded a 2.32 goals against average. His save percentage is a stellar .926. Those may not be Vezina numbers, but they’re very good, especially for a goalie that faces an average of 31 shots a night.
Therefore, it might not make sense to question whether the other goalie on the NHL roster is being under-utilized. Philipp Grubauer, whom the Avalanche traded a second-rounder for (and agreed to eat Brooks Oprik’s salary), has just five starts this season.
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When you look at Grubauer’s goals against average, 3.55, and save percentage, .893, it makes sense why Varlamov is getting more starts than Grubauer. That said, Philipp does have a 3-1-1 record with his five games. But that’s not the reason I propose the Colorado Avalanche might be under-utilizing him.
It all has to do with what the goals for the season are.
I’ve been talking a lot about the fact that the Avalanche are still a team in transition. We have the hottest line in the NHL right now — what I’ve started calling the Who’s Your Daddy Line.
However, we’ve also got a young, often immature team that sometimes compounds their mistakes rather than learning from them. And we’ve got a coach who has started to show some fine cracks when the pressure is on, making questionable roster decisions.
The point is, this is not a win-now team. The Avs are bubble for the playoffs, not a Cup contender. Rather, they’re trying to build the foundation to be a Cup contender.
So, that’s why I question — does it matter who the better goal tender is? Colorado has made clear Philipp Grubauer is the heir apparent. As soon as they traded for him, they signed him to a three-year deal. Semyon Varlamov is in the final year of his deal. The team hasn’t said if they’ll offer him another contract, but they have stated they’re committed to their youth movement.
In other words, I imagine if they offered Varlamov any kind of contract, it would be a short-term (one-year) deal as a bridge while they figure out who Grubauer’s backup will be. Grubauer is meant to take over the number-one spot.
That’s another reason I question why the Colorado Avalanche are relying on Varlamov so much. If we’re grooming Grubauer to be the eventual number-one goalie, shouldn’t we, well, be grooming him for that position? It might lead to some more losses than relying on Varlamov. However, isn’t it better to get the feeling-out period out of the way now when the Avalanche don’t have such high expectations anyway?
This rationale is a theme for me this year. I’ve been wanting to see the team focus on the youngsters, even if it’s taking them a little time to grow into their roles. Even if that growth time doesn’t translate into production at the moment which, again, might cost some wins. However, it seems the Avs should be taking the long-sighted approach to team development.
That said, there is one big counter-argument to that idea of developing the team now — the playoffs. Like I said, Colorado isn’t built for a deep playoff run now. However, they are built for the playoffs. As much as I enjoy the playoffs myself, I can also see them as a valuable step in the youngsters’ development.
And not just the sophomores and rookies. The top line needs more experience in the post season to learn how to take their play to the next level. They didn’t have the opportunity to do that last post season partially because they’d emptied their gas tanks just getting to the playoffs. They didn’t have another level to give.
Back to Grubauer. First of all, he’s tapped to get the start tomorrow against the Washington Capitals. That didn’t surprise me in the least. Not only has Varlamov gotten the last four consecutive starts, but Washington is Grubauer’s former team. You always want to give a player a chance to show his former team what they’re missing out on, even if the trade was amicable in Philipp’s case.
GM Joe Sakic has stated that, as far as he’s concerned, the Colorado Avalanche have two number-one goalies. Coach Jared Bednar hasn’t been playing them that way. It really seems like he saw a bad performance by Grubauer (in Vancouver)and decided to go back to the known quantity that is Varlamov.
It’s hard to know how that’s going to sit with Sakic — there’s nothing to suggest he’s not into a win-now for playoff experience mode. However, if he’s really committed to forming the foundation of his Cup-contending team, he may want Grubauer to start getting more starts.
Honestly, there’s no reason not to start Grubauer more. He’s a technically sound goalie, and for now at least, he’s the future of the Colorado Avalanche.