During the 2013-2014 season, the Colorado Avalanche rode goaltender Semyon Varlamov all the way to the playoffs. In the last two campaigns, that ride has stalled. Is it time to attach the reins to another workhorse in net?
The Avs expected to make the playoffs last season, falling short of their goal. With that disappointment may also come changes. Lately, there has been rampant speculation that that change may come in net. Now, the organization faces the question: Should they move on from Varlamov?
In Varlamov’s 57 games last season, the Avalanche could only muster 27 wins. While not terrible, his .914 save percentage cannot be considered elite, having declined for the second straight year. His goals against average (2.81) followed the same pattern. The 28-year-old Russian has three seasons remaining on his contract, with a $5.9 million annual cap hit.
The team does have Calvin Pickard waiting in the wings. In his 20 appearances last season, he statistically outplayed Varlamov, posting a save percentage of .922 and a goals against average of 2.56. At 24 years of age, he is a younger option; one that will likely come at a cheaper price tag.
The team needs to re-sign Pickard, who is a restricted free agent, and is unlikely to accept another two-way contact. If he is signed, the team will be left with three goaltenders on one-way deals (Reto Berra being the other).
Sure, the Avalanche would likely love to move Berra, but nobody bit when the team passed him through waivers late last season, meaning the market for him will likely be small (if it exists at all). That leaves Varlamov as a possible trade piece; but what would his market look like?
Varlamov is an incredibly talented goaltender, with all the natural ability to be successful. That might be enough to get a team desperate for a goalie (hello Calgary) to bite. Due, in part, to the aggressive nature of his game, he is also incredibly inconsistent. That, coupled with his salary, could be a deterrent.
Still, it is possible that a desperate organization could be willing to pay a hefty price for Varlamov. If the Avalanche hold on to him, they face the potential prospect of losing a goaltender for nothing in an expansion draft during the summer of 2017 (as they will likely only be able to protect one goaltender). If that is indeed the case, it might be better to get as much as they can for him now.
I am not saying that they should actively shop Varlamov, but trading him would allow the Avalanche to allocate their financial resources elsewhere. The team does have goaltending depth, with holes elsewhere. If someone approaches them with a serious offer (say a late first-round/early second-round pick and a reliable second pairing defenseman), I’d at least give it some serious thought.