Deen: Handing the reins to Alexandar Georgiev is a risk worth taking for the defending Stanley Cup champions

Apr 29, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev (40) skates during a break in the action against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

He wasn’t going to let it happen again.

The goalie carousel each summer often leaves a team, sometimes two, without a starter. Last season the Avalanche were one goalie away from being left empty-handed. And at the eleventh hour, general manager Joe Sakic outbid Edmonton, paying a hefty price for the services of Darcy Kuemper after then starter Phillipp Grubauer suddenly chose to sign with Seattle.

With free agency less than a week away and a number of teams in search of goaltending — Sakic wasn’t going to let it happen again. Instead, he rolled the dice on a younger, less experienced goalie in Alexandar Georgiev.

The 26-year-old Russian netminder was acquired on Thursday from the New York Rangers in exchange for third and fifth-round draft picks in 2022 and a third-rounder in 2023. The move came after Sakic and Kuemper’s representation met to discuss the parameters of an extension for the pending unrestricted free agent.

It quickly became apparent that Kuemper had priced himself out of Colorado following his Stanley-Cup winning season.

Georgiev is a mystery box. While yes, he’s shown flashes of brilliance — mostly in the early parts of his short five-year tenure with the Rangers — he’s also never played more than 34 games in a single season.

Once the heir to the Henrik Lundqvist throne, Georgiev was passed up on the depth chart by perhaps the best goalie in the NHL, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin. His numbers have since taken a dip.

Last season Georgiev was 15-10-2 with a career-low .898 save percentage. But his late-season surge, where he finished 8-1 with two shutouts, is the goalie Colorado is hoping to get.

Acquiring Georgiev gives Colorado an opportunity to find a long-term answer in between the pipes. It also gives Georgiev the shot he’s always yearned for.

“Cap-wise, we felt we had to do something,” Sakic said on ESPN during the first round of the draft. “He’s a younger goalie, he’s got a lot of upside. He’s shown that when he is a starter he could be a good No. 1.”

Make no mistake about it, Georgiev is a risk. But it’s a methodical approach taken by Sakic.

Unlike past free agents in Grubauer and Kuemper, the Avalanche don’t entirely know what they’re going to get from Georgiev. He obviously could end up not panning out, but he could also develop into a star. And while the restricted free agent still has not signed a new deal, you can absolutely expect him to be locked up for a lot less than the $5.9 million Grubauer is making or the potential $6 million that Kuemper could get on the market.

The deal could happen as soon as this weekend.

Georgiev is coming off a two-year deal where he made $2.425 million per season. If Sakic locks him up to somewhere in the 3-4 year range at a cap number south of $4 million annually, then it’s a worthy risk to take.

If Georgiev pans out, he and dependable backup Pavel Francouz would cost the Avs less than $6 million combined for the next two seasons. If he doesn’t?

Then it’s back to the drawing board. And as we saw when Petr Mrazek and his $3.8 million contract were shipped out of Toronto, anyone is tradeable.

It’s certainly not ideal to lose your starter just weeks after winning the Cup. Kuemper is the first goalie since Antti Niemi in 2010 to not return to his Cup-winning team the following season.

But in a flat salary-cap era, in an offseason where Colorado has decisions to make up and down its lineup, shifting from Kuemper to Georgiev — from roughly $6 million to perhaps half of that number — from a known commodity to a green banana with upside to blossom into a star, it was the right move.

And Sakic — the NHL’s GM of the year — wasn’t going to let the patience of last summer bite him once again.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

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Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.

Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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