Avalanche Goaltending Reaches Deep

The Colorado Avalanche have depth in net with six goaltenders between the NHL and their AHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles. Philipp Grubauer began the season as the starter with Pavel Francouz as the backup. In most cases, that’s all the goaltending a team would need, but not this season and not for the Avalanche. Injuries have pushed five of the six goalies into NHL games this season.

Grubauer/Francouz Tandem

The Avs’ top two netminders have split starts due to injury and scheduling. Grubauer has played 36 games with a .916 save percentage (SV%) which ranks 17th in the league for the 2019-20 season.

He started all but four games at the beginning of the season until he was injured on Nov. 5 against the Dallas Stars and missed five games. 

Philipp Grubauer Colorado Avalanche
Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 28-year-old German-born netminder was acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He played 37 games in the 2018-19 season, splitting time between the pipes with starter, Semyon Varlamov. Due to injuries and inconsistent play, the Avalanche did not re-sign Varlamov and parted ways with him in the offseason, thus promoting Grubauer to the starting position.

Related: Ranking the NHL’s 31 Starting Goaltender – Midseason Update

Grubauer was 6-3-2 before being injured. In his absence, Francouz stepped up and won the next two games until he was knocked out in the first minute of play with a concussion on Nov. 14 against the Winnipeg Jets. Backup Adam Werner took the crease and earned a shutout in his first NHL game. 

When both goalies returned from injury, they continued to play as expected. Grubauer earned the majority of starts and relinquished duties to Francouz on back-to-back contests or when the schedule was tight.

Grubauer posted a 13-8-2 record in 23 games before suffering another injury (lower-body) in the Stadium Series game against the L.A. Kings on Feb. 15. Francouz won nine and lost four (one overtime loss) in the stretch when both goalies were healthy. 

Since Grubauer’s second absence, Francouz has an 8-2-2 record with one shutout, placing him seventh among league leaders. His play has been solid enough to keep the Avalanche in contention for the top of the Western Conference. Although the team has struggled with the injuries and line changes, the net hasn’t been an issue. 

Related: Top 10 NHL Backup Goalies

The undrafted, Czech-born Francouz was a crapshoot for the Avalanche since he’d never played in the NHL. His professional experience was solely Czech leagues and the Kontinental Hockey League. He made the leap to the NHL when the Avalanche signed him as a free agent in May 2018.

Francouz’s solid play earned him a new two-year contract signed on Feb. 21. “We are excited to have Pavel under contract for another two seasons,” general manager Joe Sakic said. “He has been an important part of our team this year and has performed really well, especially when we needed it most. He is a hard-working professional, a great teammate and has earned his opportunity in the NHL.”

Hutchinson Joins the Avalanche

The Avalanche acquired goaltender Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Calle Rosen on Feb. 24, to add depth to their goaltending after Grubauer was injured. 

Hutchinson appeared in 15 games with the Maple Leafs this season. His record was a dismal 4-9-1, with a 3.66 goals-against average (GAA) and .886 SV%. He posted better numbers in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, with a 3-1-0 record and a .943 SV%. 

Michael Hutchinson Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hutchinson won his first and only contest in an Avalanche sweater against the Detroit Red Wings on March 2. His contract expires at the end of the season. He’s a solid backup for Francouz, but will not see much or possibly any ice time when Grubauer gets healthy.

Avalanche-Owned AHL Goaltenders

Following Adam Werner’s shutout on Nov. 14, he started the next game against the Edmonton Oilers and was pulled after allowing five goals on 18 shots. He was replaced by Antoine Bibeau in the second period, who made nine saves in his season debut, a 6-2 loss. 

As of Mar. 10, Werner is 17-10-1 for the AHL’s Eagles with a .907 SV% and two shutouts. His play has been exceptional in the AHL and he continues to develop in the minors, which is advantageous for the Avalanche if they need to call up another goaltender. 

Related: Top 10 NHL Goalie Prospects

Bibeau started the contest against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 17 to earn his first NHL win in three years. 

However, he’s only played two games this season for the Eagles and has an 0-2 record. Bibeau was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in late Sept. 2019 for Nicolas Meloche but he hasn’t panned out for the club. His contract expires at the end of this season, and with more proven players in his position, the Avalanche will most likely not offer him a new contract.

Philipp Grubauer283618124.916
Pavel Francouz29342174.923
Adam Werner222110.914
Antoine Bibeau252110.881
Michael Hutchinson301100.944

Grubauer and Francouz are at their peaks in play and age. If both remain healthy, they’ll be assets for years to come. Their combined consistent and solid play leaves little room for the other goaltenders to get any ice time at the NHL level.

The Avalanche also signed Hunter Miska to a one-year contract on Feb. 10. The 24-year-old has posted a 16-6-4 record with the Eagles. He has two shutouts and a .924 SV%. He also played three games in the ECHL for the Utah Grizzlies and won two of the three contests and was named the ECHL Goaltender of the Week.

Miska is a solid, young goalie still in development for the Avalanche. It is dependent on what they do with Bibeau and Hutchinson, but he’ll most likely remain with the team after this season.

Prospect Netminders

Along with the goalies in the NHL and AHL, the Avalanche have three prospects in their system: Trent Miner, Justus Annunen and Shamil Shmakov.

In 28 games with the Vancouver Giants, Miner has posted a .901 SV% with 2.76 goals-against average. He earned his first shutout of the season on Feb. 29 and is playing solid for the Giants. 

Miner is on the smaller side (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) for a goalie, but Avalanche scouts saw potential in him. As the most recently drafted goalie (202nd overall in 2019), he’s only 19 years old and has plenty of time to improve.

Drafted 64th overall by the Avalanche in 2018, Annunen has an impressive .927 SV% and a 1.76 GAA in 22 games with Karpat (Finland) this season. He also earned a shutout for Team Finland in the 2020 World Junior Championships on Jan. 2 shutting down Team USA for the win. 

Unfortunately, Shmakov is low on the totem pole. He’s only played seven games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders this season with a .901 SV% and 3.03 GAA. He’s 20 years old and tall and lanky, at 6-foot-8, 196 pounds, but still needs time to develop.

Team Effort

With a healthy Grubauer and Francouz, the team is secure. The locker room is fluid and the players have more confidence with two solid netminders playing for them. They enjoy playing together and respect each other, which makes for a healthy environment on and off the ice.

Several games have been won by these two shutting the door when the defense has broken down and the offense just can’t get a substantial lead.

It takes a team as a whole to win a Stanley Cup. Even when their starter is injured, the Avalanche have proven depth in net. The question is will they put Grubauer back in as the main starter when he comes back from injury or go with a tandem between the two into the playoffs?