The Avalanche have two capable netminders and the team and goalies themselves seem just fine with that.
One of the ongoing debates in Colorado Avalanche land during all of the 2019-2020 season was who should be tagged as the teams #1 goalie. Talk to Avs fans and almost everyone had an opinion on if Philipp Grubauer, acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals in 2018, should be the guy or if Pavel Francouz, an undrafted player out of the Czech Republic, should be. However, no matter where fan allegiance stands, when asked if the other guy got the starting gig would that be ok, you almost always hear something to the effect of ‘oh, absolutely’.
That is why you don’t see daily stories coming out of this shortened training camp each with an update on who has the lead in this goalie battle. In the end the Avalanche are in great shape no matter who they pick to start game one in the NHL playoffs. That doesn’t mean the Avalanche aren’t closely watching both and will make their pick after doing their due diligence. This is not going to be a ‘pick one out of a hat’ scenario.
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Just like with the Hart Trophy nominees, an argument can be made for either player to win the job. Both have had ups and downs throughout the season, both have struggled with injuries which has forced the healthy player to step up which they, for the most part, have done. However, like everyone else they have both had months away from the game so we are basically starting at ground zero and the coaching staff will be watching, arms folded, saying prove it to me. I don’t get the feeling either one started out training camp with the job as theirs to lose.
Let’s start with Pavel Francouz. The last we saw Francouz he was the guy. Grubauer was nursing an injury he obtained in the Stadium Series game so Pavel knew the weight fell on his shoulders, and boy did he deliver. Since the Grubauer injury, Francouz went 8-2-2 with a 2.37 GAA, .919 save percentage and one shutout. In late February he was named the NHL 1st star of the week and put up a 3-0-1 record with a 1.46 goals-against average. He followed that up the very next week in being named the 3rd star of the week posting a 3-0-0 record and a .946 save percentage while saving at least 30 goals in each of those games, including a season high 45 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Pavel Francouz was riding a wave of success that had the Avalanche within striking distance of the St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the conference and the Avs were so satisfied with his performance they signed him to a modest 2 year, $4 million deal. Had the season been able to be completed, Pavel Francouz could have reenacted what Philipp Grubauer did just a season ago in having a solid end to the season and lead the Avs deep in the playoffs.
Which is the argument as to why Philipp Grubauer could hold his position as the team’s starting goalie when play returns.
Grubauer was brought in with the expectation that he could potentially be the Avs goalie of the future and after beating out a struggling Semyon Varlamov at the end of last year, people thought the Avs found their man. He was rock solid from late January on and carried the Avs into the playoffs and within a game of the Western Conference Finals. So coming into this season the Avalanche felt pretty comfortable with Grubauer between the pipes taking on most of the workload with Francouz spelling him when necessary.
The one knock on Grubauer was he had yet to prove himself as an ace goalie for a full season, so could he handle that workload? The answer to that question is still unknown thanks to injuries, or maybe the injuries give you some sort of answer.
Players find another gear when it comes playoff time. They get through the grind of a season and when the second season in the playoff arrives they know it’s do or die time. How Philipp Grubauer performed in the playoffs last year often gets forgotten thanks to a certain young defenseman who took the team by storm after his college season ended.
After a disastrous game 1 against the top seeded Calgary Flames, Grubauer was lights out in posting four straight wins including two overtime victories and a masterful series clinching game 5 that saw him surrender a single goal as well as a Flames penalty shot by Johnny Gadreau that he turned aside. Not an easy task while in enemy territory with a hostile crowd willing their team to continue their season while you try to send them packing.
The situation the Avalanche find themselves in is not extraordinary. Players fight for positions all the time and coaches need to make difficult decisions all the time. This will without question be one of the more difficult ones to make. However, the Avs have three things working for them here.
First, there is no wrong answer, for a couple reasons. Both goalies have proven they can handle being the guy, so no worries when it comes to that. Because of the suspended season you can’t assume Pavel Francouz will pick up where he left off in March. So the decision will come on how these two goalies look in a short amount of time in training camp, an exhibition game and three round robin games.
Second, they both are going to play! Whoever gets the start for game 1 will be anointed the starter, of course. However, the Avalanche will have the bonus of not needing to stretch their goalie things throughout the grind of the postseason. One can take over for the other and the Avalanche will not miss a beat. They are just as confident in Francouz as they are Grubauer, so the game plan doesn’t change at all no matter who is in net.
Third, Grubauer and Francouz genuinely want to win and they don’t care who gets them to the goal of a Cup. You see the opposite all the time when an NFL team has a quarterback controversy. They say all the right things to the media but deep down there is a desire to be named the team starter and leave your competition in the dust. I don’t doubt Grubs and Frankie want their name to be called when game 1 begins. both want to start. But they genuinely seem like they are somehow trying to win the starting job while simultaneously rooting for the other guy.
Don’t believe me? Take it from their own mouths.
Philipp Grubauer: “Whoever gets the call between the pipes has got to do a job, and if you’re not in the next game, then the next guy’s gotta step up. It’s a team sport and we’ve all got to be ready.”
Then my favorite training camp quote so far.
Pavel Francouz: “I don’t see it like a big competition between us. I see it as competition between other teams and the Colorado Avalanche.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
The possibility of losing either of these guys in the expansion draft is not something I like to think about. That’s another story, for another time.