Avalanche’s Francouz Deserves Shot at Top Goaltending Spot

Colorado Avalanche president Joe Sakic’s moves throughout last season’s Stanley Cup run are well documented, including plugging in goaltenders that have consistently delivered. The team will have their third No. 1 goaltender in as many seasons after bringing in Alexandar Georgiev in a trade with the New York Rangers. Georgiev is expected to be the starter next season, but the Avalanche already had a quality option in Pavel Francouz. Under contract for two more seasons, Francouz has been a diamond in the rough when healthy and might be the best option moving forward for the Avalanche.

Francouz Flies Under Rader Early in NHL Career

Francouz’s time with the Avalanche started innocently enough. He went undrafted but signed a one-year deal with the organization in May 2018. Colorado already had two good goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, but Francouz didn’t take long to turn some heads. He won six of his first seven starts with the Colorado Eagles, the Avalanches’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. He made just two starts in the 2018-19 campaign — both losses — but he posted a 1.96 goals-against average (GAA) and .943 save percentage (SV%) in those two games.

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche
Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Varlamov off to the New York Islanders, Francouz essentially split time with Grubauer the next season and put up similar statistics. Grubauer started 36 games, going 18-12-4 while posting a 2.63 GAA and .916 SV%. Francouz appeared in 34 games, putting up a 21-7-4 record with a 2.41 GAA and .923 SV%. Grubauer got the nod in the postseason and was great until he got injured. Thrown into his first playoff games, Francouz went 2-4 with an .892 SV% and 3.23 GAA.

But the injury bug hit Francouz, too, battling injuries through the bulk of the 2020 Playoffs before having to sit out in favor of Michael Hutchinson, Colorado’s third netminder of those playoffs. The team lost to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the second round, and Francouz’s injuries led to surgery in both knees during the offseason. He also wound up having double-hip surgery in February of the 2020-21 campaign, ending his season without him seeing a minute of action.

Francouz Rebounds From Injuries

As good as Francouz had been, the surgeries really slowed down his momentum. After playing the bulk of 2019-20 as a two-goalie tandem that was splitting time, he had to recover from his surgeries by watching Grubauer put together a great season that ended with recognition as a Vezina Trophy finalist. Francouz went from Aug. 30, 2020, to Dec. 16, 2021, without appearing in a regular-season game.

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Pavel Francouz of the Colorado Avalanche lifts the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Despite the setback, the surgeries helped get Francouz ready for what turned out to be a championship season. After playing stride-for-stride with Grubauer in his first full season back, he became the backup once again. The Avs traded for Darcy Kuemper in the offseason, and Francouz proved he was not far behind the full-time starter. Kuemper started 57 games, winning 37, a career-high by a mile (his previous best was 27 wins in 2018-19), and posted a 2.54 GAA and a .921 SV%. Francouz didn’t have the workload but posted nearly identical numbers. In 21 appearances, he had a 2.55 GAA and a .916 SV%.

Francouz was also critical to the Avalanche’s postseason success. Kuemper missed extended stretches twice in the playoffs, once in the first round and again in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche’s momentum didn’t slow down with the backup between the pipes, as Francouz went 6-0 in seven appearances with a 2.81 GAA and .906 SV%. He won the last two games of the first-round sweep against the Nashville Predators and closed out the final three games of Colorado’s sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final. He also shut out the Oilers in Game 2 of that series, but the Avalanche went back to Kuemper for the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Case for Francouz Over Georgiev

Just like Grubauer did last season, Kuemper is off to free agency after a career year with the team. Colorado is attempting to capture the same magic once again with Georgiev, but Francouz might be the guy they needed all along. Georgiev has had a middling five-year stint with the Rangers, posting a 2.94 GAA and .908 SV% across 129 appearances. He appeared in only two postseason games in his career, both losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2022 Playoffs.

Alexandar Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev, shown with New York Rangers, is now a member of the Colorado Avalanche. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Francouz has already put up similar regular-season numbers compared to Kuemper and Grubauer, and he was stellar in the 2022 postseason. He’s appeared in pressure-packed situations like the 2020 series against the Stars and was in the net to close out two series in this season’s run to Colorado’s first title in more than two decades. It’s understandable that Sakic went out and got Kuemper before the 2021-22 campaign because he didn’t know how Francouz would bounce back from the multiple injuries and surgeries. However, the 32-year-old netminder showed plenty of mettle in a solid regular season as well as the playoffs.

Related: Avalanche Get Long-Term Starter With Georgiev Trade

The career numbers are better for Francouz when compared to Georgiev, too. Francouz’s career GAA is 2.46, and he pairs that with a .921 SV% over 57 career appearances. Those are both better than Georgiev, and Francouz has a much better postseason résumé. When asked about the goaltending situation at the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, Sakic said that Georgiev and Francouz were going to be 1-2, but he didn’t exactly specify the order of the rotation. The Avalanche have been searching for a permanent fixture in the net for a few years, and Francouz might end up being that guy by the end of the season.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe