The Colorado Avalanche need to get the turnstile that is their goalie position under control. The constant turnover has been a result of the consistent success the Avs have had while only being able to sign a goalie to short-term deals. With relative success at the goalie position, there are former Avs players across the league: Semyon Varlamov, Philipp Grubauer, Darcy Kuemper, etc. The Avs took advantage of the New York Rangers looking to offload a disgruntled goalie in Alexandar Georgiev, who wanted a chance to prove he was a starting-caliber goalie for a competitive team. After a career-defining year last season where he played 62 games and compiled a 40-16-6 record, and currently the NHL leader in wins this season with a 27-11-2 record, Georgiev is defying all current NHL odds with the workload that has been placed upon him. But is it too much?
Georgiev is without his current teammate Pavel Francouz, who has proven to be one of the more reliable backup goaltenders in the NHL over the last few seasons. Francouz, another undrafted goaltender, is out for the remainder of the 2023-2024 season as he recovers from surgery due to a groin injury he suffered at the conclusion of last season. Without a reliable backup and up against the salary cap, the Avs have to be creative in finding a solution. With minimal cap space, the Avs made a last-ditch move and claimed Ivan Prosvetov off waivers from the Arizona Coyotes prior to the start of the regular season. His starts have not been impressive enough as Colorado prepares for a push through the final 33 games of the regular season, and prepare for what could be up to an additional 28 games of playoff hockey. So where do the Avs look for assistance and some workload relief for Georgiev?
While trade rumors continue to fly across the NHL, the Avs will monitor the potential of finding a goalie in various areas. Recently, Justus Annunen was called up from the Colorado Eagles to get some playing time at the NHL level. In his one appearance for the Avs, he faced off against the Ottawa Senators and secured the victory, but allowed 4 goals on 40 shots faced. With the Colorado Eagles, Annunen is currently 13-5-4 with a 2.68 GAA and a .906 SV% in 22 games played and is the favored goaltender within the organization. The Avs selected Annunen 64th overall in the third round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and continue his development as the starting goaltender for their AHL affiliate. At 23 years of age, his youth means growth a maturity are a primary focus. Should Annunen not be the solution, the Avs will have to look outside the organization to find a potential veteran and/or short-term solution behind Georgiev, while looking at the potential to flip Annunen as a trade piece, which isn't likely, but has to be considered as an option.
Marc-Andre Fleury is a soon-to-be UFA with the Minnesota Wild and at 39 years old, may not have much NHL-level hockey left. A three-time Stanley Cup Champion with over 150 Playoff games under his belt, his knowledge of the game and ability alone would be beneficial to the Avs for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. Fleury has been with the Minnesota Wild since the Vegas Golden Knights opted for Adin Hill as their starter, and while his experience is a massive component for any competing team looking for help in the net, the Avs will be hard-pressed to swallow the remainder of the $3.5 million from his contract for the rest of the season without moving a potential player or players and their salaries on the current roster.
Another potential three-time Champion, and cheaper option would be Jonathan Quick, who is also on an expiring contract, but at a veteran minimum value of $825,000. A much easier pill to swallow if you are the Colorado Avalanche. It could also come at a low-risk cost in a goalie exchange for Justus Annunen, an RFA in the offseason. The Avs could also justify trading other rostered players on short-term low-cost deals to help the Rangers as they are also in a playoff hunt, currently leading the Metropolitan Division. Their current position makes the Jonathan Quick option extremely unlikely so that Avs would have to look toward teams that want to start looking at next season and building their rosters in exchange for current talent. So where else could the Avs look?
There are other options out there, with teams like San Jose, New Jersey, Buffalo, and Montreal currently on the outside of the playoffs, and with goaltenders on contracts that are set to expire at the end of this season or next year. MacKenzie Blackwood is a former New Jersey Devils goaltender who signed with San Jose and has struggled in front of a young team with a less-than-talented core. The Sharks may be looking to move a few players to secure trade assets or pieces to strengthen their roster as they attempt to recover from years of trading draft picks for a shot at the Stanley Cup. Blackwood has $2.2 million for this year and a $2.5 salary cap hit next season.
An even cheaper young option with a solid stat line of 12-11-2 with a 2.61 GAA and SV% of .901 is Buffalo goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. With a salary this season of $925,000 the Avs could trade a veteran minimum contract to Buffalo and a mid-round draft pick in order to secure his services. Luukkonen is set to be a restricted free agent (RFA) this upcoming offseason. At the age of 24, Luukkonen would be a great addition to the Avs on a low-risk two-to-three-year contract and allow for healthy competition behind Georgiev for the backup role with Annunen, should the Avs not re-sign Pavel Francouz.
A final option that seems unlikely due to the recent departure of Carter Hart is Samuel Ersson. Ersson was given a two-year extension by the Philadelphia Flyers back in August and isn't scheduled to be an RFA until 2026. The Flyers would be unlikely to move on from Ersson unless the offer was extensive. But another young, upcoming goalie the Avs could target while having what has been one of arguably the best sets of goaltending coaches at the NHL and AHL level the last few seasons makes this an intriguing option.
In all likelihood, The Avs will lean into their own organization and work on Annunen as their best option. But if any of the exterior options were worth chasing, Chris McFarland and Joe Sakic should chat with Buffalo and send some scouts while they are on the East Coast during the upcoming road trip. He is healthy, has seen some quality NHL action, and could be a long-term answer if the Avs look to move on from Francouz and provide Georgiev with more of a tandem partnered approach. I for one am all for the resurgence of the workhorse goalie. The Vezina Trophy is a one-person award after all.