As 2020 begins, it’s time to look back at the past decade for the Colorado Avalanche and remember players who left their mark. First up, goaltenders.
The netminders feature the shortest list. However, some interesting questions came up. How do you measure which goaltenders made the grade? While there may have been bigger names on the NHL stage who made brief appearances with the team over the past 10 years, the focus will be on players who played a major role with the Avalanche or who made a significant impact.
Honorable Mentions – Anderson and Giguere
A couple of netminders helped carry the Avalanche through some tough times. While they may not have stood out in a big way, they still played a role worth recognizing.
Craig Anderson played for two seasons and 104 games for the Avalanche. He helped the team to the first round of the playoffs in 2009-10, his own postseason debut.
The Avalanche lost the series to recurring foe – the San Jose Sharks. The following season, Anderson struggled and was eventually traded to the Ottawa Senators, where he’s played ever since.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere served as a veteran mentor and backup goaltender early on in Semyon Varlamov’s career. Giguere was on the team from 2011 to 2014, making 72 appearances over the course of his tenure. He retired at the end of the 2013-14 season after battling a groin injury. However, Giguere’s steadfast attitude and solid play made him a reliable backup during the team’s struggling years.
The Top 3 Goaltenders of the Decade
The top three goaltenders showcase the struggles of the past decade for the Avalanche. Whether they were individually brilliant or offered hope for the future, all three impacted how people view the current team.
3. Calvin Pickard, Promising Prospect
Is it rare to have a backup goaltender on the list? Maybe. But Pickard spent the second-longest time in the Avalanche organization of any goaltender during the past decade.
He was drafted in 2010, played for the American Hockey League affiliates, the Lake Erie Monsters and the San Antonio Rampage, playing in 86 games with the Avalanche through the 2016-17 season. That’s seven years working with the organization.
Beyond that, he managed to make his mark with the team and the fans. His cheerful demeanor, his “Picks wiggle” in warm-ups, his sunny interactions with the public, all endeared him to fans. He also showed flashes of potential for an NHL spot. Unfortunately, the Avalanche lost him to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, he bounced around a bit and currently plays in the Detroit Red Wings organization.
In many ways, Pickard represented hope for the future during some challenging times. And for that, he’s earned a well-deserved ‘thank you’.
2. Philipp Grubauer, Playoff Star
Many of the players making the list spent a long time with the team. Philipp Grubauer strays from that mold. While he’s only played 59 games in an Avalanche uniform, acquiring him signalled a change for the Avalanche. He was signed to a three-year contract extension the day after being traded to Colorado, indicating an opportunity to make a run at the starter position.
While Grubauer struggled early in the 2018-19 season, he played like an elite goaltender later on during the Avalanche’s push for the playoffs. He backstopped the team to an upset first-round victory over the Calgary Flames and fought to a pivotal Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
Why is Grubauer number two? He manned the net for the Avalanche when they advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. His play helped the team get there and his efforts kept their hopes alive until the last second ticked off the clock in San Jose. Grubauer didn’t win the games alone, but his contributions helped the team re-open the door for a Stanley Cup dream. After a decade of struggling, reclaiming a winning heritage matters.
By the way, only three other Avalanche goaltenders have more than Grubauer’s 12 playoff appearances in a Colorado uniform – David Aebischer (13), Jose Theodore (19), and Patrick Roy (133).
1. Semyon Varlamov, Fire and Ice Stalwart
To no one’s surprise, Varlamov makes the list as the most important Avalanche goaltender for the decade. He could be stellar or he could be awful, a perfect example of how the team played. Fire or ice, pick your poison. Varlamov played 389 games for the Avalanche, second only to Patrick Roy for most games for the team. Varlamov spent eight seasons wearing a Colorado uniform, minding the net as the starting goaltender throughout his tenure.
When Varly was healthy, he could will the team to a win. During the 2013-14 season, he made it possible for the team to make the playoffs with an impressive .927 save percentage and a strong 2.41 goals against average. It was his only playoff series with the Avalanche, despite his long tenure with the team.
Health issues, however, hampered his play in recent years. He missed a good portion of the disastrous 2016-17 season for hip surgery to address lingering groin issues. He missed the playoffs with additional injuries in 2017-18 and Grubauer outplayed him for the starting role for the 2018-19 postseason. It was unfortunate, as Varlamov’s play helped the team reach the postseason both times. Over the years, he earned a reputation for either being one of the best players on the ice, or not. There was very little middle ground.
After Grubauer’s impressive late-season run, Varlamov’s expensive contract and his upcoming free agency put the writing on the wall. Although he is now playing for the New York Islanders, Varlamov will always hold a special place in Avalanche history.
New Decade, New Netminders
The Avalanche entered the decade searching for an identity. For a good portion of it, Varlamov played a key role, holding the strings together while young players developed and older ones moved on. But Grubauer and current backup Pavel Francouz have the opportunity to re-establish the Avalanche as a powerhouse team and perennial playoff contender. If they succeed, they can thank the goaltenders from the past who helped hold the team together through a decade of change.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.