Avalanche’s Recent Goaltender Success Hinges on Georgiev

As a player for the Colorado Avalanche, Joe Sakic made a living during his NHL career by befuddling goaltenders on pretty much a nightly basis. Now, as the team’s president of hockey operations and previously as general manager, Sakic is deftly picking his way through netminders once again – and his choices between goaltenders have made the Avs one of the best teams in the NHL.

Alexandar Georgiev is the latest goaltender tapped by Sakic, and he’ll be the third starter in net for the Avalanche in as many seasons after coming to Colorado in a trade with the New York Rangers. This will be Georgiev’s first season as the No. 1 starter, but he also comes in to a team with the loftiest of expectations. Here’s a look back at the successes of Georgiev’s predecessors and how the newest Colorado netminder can replicate that success.

Grubauer Goes for Vezina

Philipp Grubauer was in his third season with the Avalanche before becoming the clear-cut starter, but he made the most of it in 2020-21. Grubauer played in 40 of Colorado’s 56 games in 2020-21, picking up a career-high 30 victories. He also posted a 1.95 goals-against average and .922 save percentage on the way to taking third in voting for the Vezina Trophy. Grubauer came to Colorado after playing a backup role to Braden Holtby with the Washington Capitals. Georgiev is similar on that front, having backed up Igor Shesterkin — last season’s Vezina Trophy winner — in New York.

Alexander Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexander Georgiev with the New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The season before, the Grubauer essentially split the starting duties with Pavel Francouz. However, the German netminder really showed his value in the 2019-20 postseason. During those playoffs, he posted a 1.87 GAA and a .922 SV% before getting injured against the Dallas Stars. Colorado lost that series in seven games, but they knew they had their goaltender for the following campaign.

Along with the run to becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist, Grubauer was instrumental in getting Colorado the Presidents’ Trophy for the third time in franchise history. He turned his successful season into a six-year, $35.4 million contract with the Seattle Kraken, forcing Sakic to wade into the goaltender pool once again entering the 2021-22 season, but the then-general manager did just fine with that selection, too.

Kuemper Collects a Stanley Cup

Darcy Kuemper had never played for a legitimate contender in his first nine NHL seasons – winning just one playoff series as the main starter in goal during that stretch. That lone series victory was the qualifying round inside the bubble during the 2019-20 playoffs. Things changed for him on July 28, 2021, when the Avalanche traded for him. Just one year later, another trade has Georgiev looking to replicate that success.

Darcy Kuemper Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Darcy Kuemper won a Stanley Cup with Colorado last spring, then left for the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Coming to Colorado with one year left on his contract, Kuemper was essentially a hired gun, but he didn’t miss. The 32-year-old goaltender didn’t finish as a Vezina finalist, but he was every bit as effective as his predecessor. Kuemper posted respectable numbers – 2.45 GAA and .921 SV%. He also scored 37 wins, which were just two shy of leading the NHL and three away from Patrick Roy’s single-season franchise record of 40 set in 2000-01.

Most importantly, Kuemper finished his season the same way Roy did in 2001 – hoisting the Stanley Cup. Kuemper faced a couple of injuries in the playoffs but still managed to win 10 games, including all four in the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He allowed more than three goals just once in that series. Like Grubauer, he turned the best season of his career into a great contract, signing a five-year, $26.25 million deal with the Washington Capitals and leaving Colorado with an empty net once again.

Georgiev Enters Dream Situation

Georgiev is entering his sixth NHL season, but this will be his first as the No. 1 guy. He split time in 2019-20 with Henrik Lundqvist and Shesterkin – who took over the New York Rangers net after that. Shesterkin was the top option for the Rangers the last two seasons, culminating with the Vezina Trophy and a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2021-22. That made Georgiev expendable, but it also gave him a great opportunity.

Alexandar Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For his career, the 26-year-old Bulgarian has a 2.94 GAA and .908 SV%. Those numbers are a little behind where Grubauer (2.44 GAA and .920 SV%) and Kuemper (2.47 GAA and .917 SV%) were before their breakout seasons in Colorado, but they’re not too far off. Georgiev is a solid game manager, and Colorado just needs him to be consistent.

The biggest question will be how he holds up over the rigors of a full season. He’s never played 35 games in a single campaign, but this is arguably the best team that he’s ever had in front of him. The Avalanche will score goals; they just need a steady force at the back like Kuemper was last year. That should play well into Georgiev’s patient style, something he learned playing under Lundqvist.

Related: Avalanche Get Long-Term Starter With Georgiev Trade

Georgiev also has the chance to be more than a one-shot wonder. The Avalanche have him signed for the next three years, which is the only thing even close to a long-term investment into a goaltender by Sakic. The GM’s gambles have paid off the last two seasons, and if this bet on Georgiev comes through in 2022-23, the Avalanche could be in the midst of building something special.

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