Colorado avalanche key roster questions – goalies

As the Colorado Avalanche continue to tinker with their roster in the preseason, their goaltending merits some scrutiny as the regular season approaches. With only two preseason games under their belt, the jury is still out on how the summer changes will impact the team. But make no mistake – there are at least three key questions to keep in mind with the Avalanche’s goaltending. 1. Will Varlamov be Healthy Enough to Be No. 1?

Semyon Varlamov finished last season early, injured after a Chicago Blackhawks player crashed into him on March 30. The Avalanche headed into the final regular season stretch relying on a banged-up Jonathan Bernier and a heroic effort by AHL call-up Andrew Hammond (aka ‘the Hamburglar’) to finish the season and man the net in their first-round playoff series.

Varlamov was apparently dealing with a couple of different lower body issues after the collision and would be out for the remainder of the season.

One injury alone is not overly concerning. However, in January, Varlamov missed nearly a month of hockey after suffering a groin issue. Again, not a big deal. Until one considers the previous year, when Varlamov left the season (also in January) for surgery to address his recurring groin and hip issues. He actually ended up getting TWO hip surgeries after being pulled out of the lineup multiple times with nagging groin problems.

Last season, Varlamov played in 51 games with his average goals against running at 2.68 (GAA), earning a save percent of .920 and racking up 24 wins, 16 losses and six overtime losses. The wins placed him 20th among goaltenders, his save rate was ranked 25th and he finished 38th in GAA. It was a solid performance but not stellar. And the injuries are concerning.

Compounding the unease was his 2016-17 season. Not only did Varlamov have the surgeries, prior to missing the season he backstopped 24 games, winning only six of them. He struggled with one of the worst season performances in his career. The surgery offered the hope that missing the second half of the season would help him come back better with his newly strengthened hips.

Which leads back to missing last January with another groin injury. Perhaps it was just a fluke and Varlamov will rebound with a flourish. But it’s troublesome. His drive is not in question. Varlamov started informal practices with teammates a month ago. Known for his intense competitive spirit, Varlamov could very well set fresh career highs as he battles for his starting spot against the newly added Philipp Grubauer. It’s also the final year of his Avalanche contract. At only 30 years old, Varlamov should be looking for another lucrative deal on the horizon whether with Colorado or elsewhere. The real question boils down to whether or not Varlamov’s body will be physically able to keep up with his desire to excel. 2. Will Grubauer Challenge Varlamov as Starter?

Grubauer boasts an impressive resume. Playing the backup role in Washington, he racked up a 28-16-5 record over the past two years, including six shutouts. He also earned a .924 save percentage and a GAA of 2.19 over the same period. Last year he posted 15 wins in 28 starts. While Grubauer was crucial in helping the Capitals reach the playoffs, starting goaltender Braden Holtby carried the team through the postseason to win the Stanley Cup.

The Avalanche went off script to pick up Czech goaltender Pavel Francouz. The 28-year-old has spent the last three years playing in the KHL as well as for the Czech Republic in international competitions. Named the KHL’s goaltender of the year last season, he boasted an impressive .946 save rate and a miserly 1.80 GAA over the course of 35 regular season games. He appeared in 12 playoff matchups, where he earned a .949 save percentage and a 1.90 GAA. While his numbers are impressive, Francouz will need to adjust to the North American style of play. The ice is smaller and the goaltenders suit up for more games, carrying a heavier workload. The big question for him relates to how well he can adapt.

Francouz presents a wild card option for the Avalanche. Should he be able to adjust to the different standards in the NHL, Francouz could put pressure on Varlamov and Grubauer. In training camp, he looked sharp in drills, positioned himself well and appeared to absorb all the coaching. Hopefully, he will play in one of the upcoming preseason contests, watching how he handles live NHL game situations. Francouz will likely start with the Colorado Eagles unless something untoward happens to either Varlamov or Grubauer. Assuming he adjusts to the NHL style of play, he will probably be the injury call-up.

The loser in the Francouz acquisition could very well be Martin. The Avalanche selected Martin 63rd in the 2013 entry draft and he joined their AHL club in 2015-16. Martin has a lot to overcome. He did not show improvement last year, and actually appeared to get worse. At 23, he should be showing a continual improvement in his play yet he earned a disappointing 3.10 GAA and an uninspired .893 save rate. His numbers dropped marginally for three straight years, not the direction the franchise wanted from a goalie aiming for an NHL slot.