“Roy prefers to ride an exceptional starter in net and use his backup goalie as truly a backup, or to give the starter a blow once in a great while. When Varlamov is healthy, there’s no doubt that he is that guy for Colorado, effectively wasting Calvin Pickard on the bench or in Lake Erie.”
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It probably goes without saying that the Colorado Avalanche would like to be rid of Retto Berra.
The Swiss netminder was tabbed as the next ‘longtime’ backup of Semyon Varlamov when the team traded for him last season with J.S. Giguere already on the roster in that role. But head coach Patrick Roy’s message became very clear when he brought up rookie Calvin Pickard to start in goal the last time Varly’s groin started to act up.
It may seem like a bizarre situation, but the Avs are hardly the only team that’s changed horses mid-race when it comes to who the team trusts in net. As recent as last season, you could find NHL teams that went through three, four, even five goalies before they found one they believed to be able to adequately get the job done.
Hell, who knew who Darcy Kuemper was before he became the fifth goalie to see significant time for the Minnesota Wild last season?
But while it may not be terribly unusual, it also presents an interesting predicament for Colorado.
Roy prefers to ride an exceptional starter in net and use his backup goalie as truly a backup, or to give the starter a blow once in a great while. When Varlamov is healthy, there’s no doubt that he is that guy for Colorado, effectively wasting Calvin Pickard on the bench or in Lake Erie. The same would be true for Varly if Roy were to decide that Pickard is the goalie of the future in Colorado.
So then let it be asked: Should Colorado move one of their stud goalies in addition to Berra?
Let’s face it; the Berra part of this equation is irrelevant. I expect Colorado to move him at some point for the equivalent of a bag of pucks, just to be rid of his salary.
But once again, the value of the backup goalie in Colorado is lessened by Roy’s propensity to ride his starter, so for the purposes of this column I’m not particularly concerned where that position is going to come from, but rather how the Avs can take their depth at goaltender and turn it into the top-four defenseman which they desperately need.
History is not going to be a big help on this one. Below is a list of goalies traded since 2010 (excluding a few guys that were traded while overseas or just had their rights traded, not an actual contract) courtesy of the Hockey News:
Devan Dubnyk to Nashville for Matt Hendricks
Cory Schneider for the ninth overall pick (Bo Horvat)
Jonathan Bernier for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, second-rounder
Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher, fourth-rounder
Steve Mason for Michael Leighton, third-rounder
Sergei Bobrovsky for second-rounder, two fourth-rounders
Anders Lindback (and Kyle Wilson) for two second-rounders, one third-rounder and Sebastien Caron
Tomas Vokoun for a seventh-rounder
Semyon Varlamov for first-rounder (Filip Forsberg) and second-rounder
Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson
Dwayne Roloson for Ty Wishart
Jaroslav Halak for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz
Kari Lehtonen for Ivan Vishnevskiy and fourth-rounder
The reason I point this out is to say that moving a starting goalie, even one with his stock as high as Varly’s probably is (or at least was, before his current injury issues), hasn’t exactly been a home run proposition historically. Even the best deals I found (going back even further) were all for first and/or second round picks. In fact, Varlamov originally came to Denver on a deal for first and second round picks.
For that reason, if Colorado wants to maximize their return they’d have to move Varlamov, and probably have to wait until he’s healthy, or perhaps even after the season.
But they can’t just get draft picks for him. Draftees (especially defensemen) take time to develop and Colorado already has a glut of young talent that they’re struggling to pay (see Stastny, Paul).
But again, looking at that list, the value of a goalie just isn’t what it used to be, certainly due in part to their volatile nature in the more offensive-oriented NHL.
The hope here is that Colorado could potentially after the season send Varlamov ( or Pickard but again, I believe his value will be lower on the market or the Avs will be less likely to move him) to a club like St. Louis that was just forced to bring Martin Brodeur out of retirement because of a dearth of options in net, and in exchange they’d get back a steady stay-at-home defenseman (again, you’re not going to get a ton of flash) and whoever that club’s primary backup goalie is. You’d be rid of Berra and will have used some excess talent at goalie to help rebuild your defensive corps on the fly.
Keep in mind however, that all of this is contingent on Pickard playing at a high level (similar to what we’ve seen so far) for a good chunk of the rest of the season plus Varlamov coming back towards the end and looking like his 2013-14 iteration. It may not seem like a lot but that’s several chips that have to fall in the right place.
Otherwise, the Avalanche have no obligation to move either of their young studs in net. Pickard’s contract is virtually non-existent and Varly’s isn’t particularly prohibitive. They could keep both and perhaps Roy might feel more comfortable giving Varlamov a rest more often, or even the tandem goaltending we’ve seen deployed by a number of teams in recent memory. It’s not like Roy has been hesitant to change strategies mid-stride in the past.
If 2014’s offseason proved anything, it’s that top-end defensemen don’t come up in free agency often, and when they do it’s not cheap. If the Avalanche continue to struggle despite all of their top-end talent at forward, this is a situation that bears watching over the course of the season, if for no other reason than to solidify their defense just a little bit sooner.