Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are undoubtedly the men in charge of the Colorado Avalanche these days. Last season, the two made the decision to send their 2014 second round draft pick to the Calgary Flames in return for goaltender Reto Berra.
Berra, a Swiss native, had previously played in 29 games for the Flames and won nine of them. Last year was also Berra’s first year in North America. The Flames decided that it was time for him to come over and get acquainted with the style of play on this side of the ocean. He was assigned to the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL at the start of the season and played nine games for them before being called up to Calgary in early November of 2013. His first win came in his first start against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
In March of 2014, Berra was traded to Colorado and a week later signed a three-year extension with the Avalanche to assume the role of Semyon Varlamov’s backup. It was a move that signaled the imminent retirement of J.S. Giguere and also that Sakic and Roy did not believe either of their two AHL goalies, Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio, were ready to be a backup in the NHL.
Berra only played in two games for the Avalanche in the 2013-14 season and was dismal in both. In those two games, he let in seven goals on 32 shots.
It was at this moment that there were rumblings amongst the fanbase about whether or not Sakic and Roy had made a mistake by prematurely signing Berra to an extension. But with the way their remarkable season had went, they put their faith in the two Hall of Famers in charge and Avalanche goaltending coach Francois Allaire.
Berra made his season debut in the first game of the season when he relieved Varlamov of his goaltending duties in the third period. He was perfect in that period and stopped all ten shots he faced but the Avalanche were unable to climb out of the early hole against the Minnesota Wild.
His next appearance was against the Boston Bruins four days later where he made his first start. Berra stopped 27 of 28 shots and the Avalanche won their first game of the year.
On October 16th, Varlamov went down with an injury and Berra was named the starter in the team’s tilt against the Ottawa Senators. After less than three minutes into the game, Berra left the game with an injury after a collision with Kyle Turris and Pickard, who had only been recalled a few hours before, was forced to play the rest of the game.
Berra’s injury didn’t sideline him long and he was back five days later when the Avalanche played host to the Florida Panthers. The high scoring affair would see the Panthers leave Denver with an overtime victory. Berra’s play was heavily scrutinized as he posted a save percentage of .889 while facing 36 shots.
It wasn’t until November 22nd that a goalie controversy in Denver started brewing. Berra, who was named the starter against the Carolina Hurricanes, only lasted 16 minutes and 50 seconds in net before being pulled in favor of Pickard. He had already let in three goals on 10 shots. Pickard would help the Avalanche steal the game by not allowing any more goals from the Hurricanes.
Despite Pickard’s success, Roy went with Berra the next game in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes. This time, Berra only lasted 10 minutes and 53 seconds before being pulled. Similar to the last game, Pickard was perfect the rest of the way and the Avalanche climbed out of a three-goal deficit for another comeback win.
Since that game, Berra has only appeared once more when he relieved Varlamov, who had come back from injuries, in the third period of a 6-2 rout at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets.
Just a few days before that game, a decision was made to send Pickard back to the AHL but it was not a decision made lightly. Sakic and Roy had been given the green light by ownership to waive Berra if necessary.
Losing confidence in Berra
It’s easy to see that Pickard has cemented himself as the number two netminder on the Avalanche depth chart. His play has been fantastic and he has given his team a chance to win on multiple occasions. The same cannot be said about Berra.
With Varlamov out with another injury, Pickard has been named the starter in all three games of an upcoming road trip that includes a back-to-back with the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.
With the way things have played out, one can only assume that Sakic and Roy regret their decision of trading their second round pick for Berra. However, you cannot fault either of them for making that decision. In Pickard’s first two games of the season, he did not look like he was ready for the NHL. Pickard’s Lake Erie Monsters teammate, Aittokallio, did not look ready either in his previous NHL appearances.
The next question is what to do with Berra once Varlamov returns from his injury. The Avalanche run the risk of losing Berra for nothing if he does not pass through waivers but at the same time they are in desperate need of points to climb up the standings and return to the post-season. Pickard gives them the best chance to do so.
In the mean time, it is up to Berra to show that he can recover from his poor play and help his team.