The Colorado Avalanche – the worst defensive team in hockey last year – just lost one of their most valuable defensive assets. In the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, the Vegas Golden Knights wasted no time selecting goaltender Calvin Pickard. They jumped on Pickard like a loose puck in front of an empty net, leaving Colorado in the lurch between the pipes.
In a way, though, Colorado left themselves in the lurch by not protecting Pickard.
Under the rules of the 2017 Expansion Draft, the Avs could protect only one goaltender. Colorado chose 29-year-old Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov, who started just 23 games for Colorado last year and posted a goals against average of 3.38.
Varlamov, who has seen his goals against average steadily climb every year since 2013-14 when he won an outstanding 41 games. He’s won just 61 combined in the three seasons since.
Varlamov, whose save percentage has also declined every year since that one stellar season, to a career-low of .898 last year.
Varlamov, who has battled two major groin injuries during his time with Colorado.
Varlamov who is owed $5.9 million dollars per year over each of the next two years.
The Knights got a steal in Pickard.
Pickard, who at 25 years old, is owed a base salary of $1.075 million dollars and then will become a restricted free agent.
Pickard, who also posted career lows in goals against average and save percentage, but was significantly better than the goaltender who started the season in front of him on the depth chart.
Pickard, who is on an upward trajectory in his career.
No, Pickard’s numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, and it would be unfair to only assess Varlamov’s struggles by stats. But Colorado left themselves vulnerable to losing one of their biggest defensive assets and the Golden Knights pounced.
Pickard may never be a marquee goaltender in the NHL, but he was one of the few bright spots in a dismal 2016-17 season that saw the Avalanche post the worst record in the shootout era.
Admittedly, neither Varlamov nor Pickard were truly the problem with Colorado’s defense last year. But with Pickard in net it always felt like the Avs might steal a game here and there. It never felt that way with Varlamov between the pipes last season.
Colorado is banking on Erik Johnson returning fully healthy and Tyson Barrie turning a corner on the defensive end next year. They also believe enough in Nikita Zadorov to have protected him in the expansion draft. Even those three don’t offer much hope for Varlamov. Only Johnson had a plus/minus in the single digits last year at -6. Zadorov was an uninspiring -20 and Barrie was a team worst -34 (tied with center Matt Duchene).
Varlamov and Pickard weren’t the biggest problems last year, but Varlamov alone is not going to be the solution.
Colorado had a chance to potentially rid themselves of an inconsistent, injury-plagued and costly goaltender. Instead, they left one with upside and potential – and one liked in the locker room – available for selection.
Had the Avalanche protected Pickard, they’d, at worst, be in the same boat they were in last year – with a question mark in Varlamov and a serviceable option behind him in Pickard. Now they have only the question mark.