Goaltender Issues Are Building for the Avalanche

It’s time the Colorado Avalanche face their goaltending issues – and there’s more than one.

Colorado has climbed to one of the higher goals allowed averages (GAA) in the NHL. Their recent struggles have helped inflate that number. The team has been outscored by 10 goals in the last five games. The Avalanche currently surrender an average of 3.09 goals per game, the 14th-highest rate in the NHL. Of the 13 teams with a worse rate, only three are currently in line to make the postseason.

Fortunately for the Avalanche, they also have the fourth-highest goals scored per game (3.59). However, that margin is closing and a half a goal more per game can only do so much, especially in close matchups.

Avalanche Goaltenders Are Underperforming

The netminding woes don’t stop there. Veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov ranks 25th for save percentage with a .913 SV%, and his 2.79 GAA places him 28th. He owns an 11-8-3 record.

Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov continues his starting role in net. Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sport

Meanwhile, Philipp Grubauer ranks 52nd with a .897SV% and his 3.22 GAA puts him in 55th place. He’s earned a 7-2-3 record.

Both goaltenders can do better. In fact, Grubauer had a better save rate and GAA than Varlamov in 2017-18. And even Varlamov’s numbers were better last season. Statistically, both goaltenders are underperforming this season.

But there’s more to the Avalanche’s goaltending issues.

Player Usage Raises Questions

Varlamov has played 10 more games than Grubauer but only has four more wins. Both have the same number of overtime losses but Varlamov has six more losses than Grubauer. Varlamov has won 47.83% of the games he played while Grubauer has won 53.85% of his contests. In fact, Varlamov has helped the team to earn 25 points over 23 games.

Meanwhile, Grubauer has helped the team to 17 points with 12 fewer starts (he’s had two relief appearances). He also has the most wins of any goaltender with only 13 appearances. Based solely on starts, the team earned an average of 1.09 points per game with Varly while gaining 1.55 points per game with Grubauer backstopping the team.

This begs the question – why is Varlamov getting more starts than Grubauer? Yes, Varlamov’s SV% is better and he allows fewer goals, but the Avalanche win more with Grubauer in net. While the stats show Varlamov ahead in some categories, the point is to win games. The Avalanche win more with Grubauer.

Grubauer Avalanche
Philipp Grubauer came to Colorado for a starting role. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Grubauer’s numbers are down this season. Is his intermittent use affecting his ability to perform? He hasn’t had a consistent playing schedule since the start of the season. Many goaltenders prefer a routine to get into a rhythm. Have his few appearances kept him from finding his groove?

His playing time raises another question – is Grubauer really the Avalanche’s goaltender of the future? Many thought he would be given the chance to fight for the starter role in Colorado. Because he’s already 27, Grubauer likely wants a chance to prove he can be a team’s primary goaltender. Starting 11 of the Avalanche’s 34 games is not primary goaltender status. He is signed through the 2020-21 season for a team friendly $3.33 million a year. Team friendly for a starter, that is. It’s a healthy salary for a backup goaltender. What does the low number of starts say about the team’s plans for Grubauer?

Meanwhile, Varlamov’s $5.9 million contract expires at the end of this season. Varlamov’s salary puts him in the top-10 for goaltenders, yet his play has not consistently been at a top-10 level. At 30 years old, he’s probably looking for the big paycheck for his upcoming deal. Are the Avalanche looking to re-sign the oft-injured Russian? While Varlamov has flashes of brilliance, his consistency and his injury history make him a problematic signing for the long term.

Colorado Avalanche Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov will be looking for a big contract next season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Varlamov’s long-term health may not be the only concern for the team. If the Avalanche believe they are entering their winning window, then Varlamov may not be their answer. Mikko Rantanen will be getting a significant raise at the end of the season. Six other restricted free agents are in the final year of their contracts. The team may not have the financial resources to go around. Colorado may not have deep enough pockets to shell out the big dollars Varlamov will want.

If the Avalanche are interested in moving on from Varlamov, they need to play Grubauer more. The team needs to see if he really is their future goaltender. The best way to measure his potential value is to play him consistently and then measure his effectiveness. As it is, the team already tends to win more when Grubauer is in net. If he’s not the answer to their future in goal, then the Avalanche need to start looking now. Colorado is entering their time to shine. The Avalanche need the goaltending to rise to the occasion.