The Case for Sending Calvin Pickard Back to the AHL

There is no doubt that Calvin Pickard earned every minute of his playing time during his recent appearances for the Avalanche this past week and a half.

After relieving Reto Berra of his goaltending duties on November 22nd in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Pickard shut the door on the Canes and the Avalanche came back from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in regulation. It was a big momentum shifting win for the team as they tried to recover from their poor start to the season.

The win was also Pickard’s first in the NHL.

Earlier in October, Pickard made his first NHL appearance for the Avalanche when starting goalie Semyon Varlamov and backup Berra were injured. He let in a combined seven goals in two losses before being sent back to Cleveland, Ohio, and the Lake Erie Monsters.

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

After Varlamov was again sidelined with another injury, Pickard was called up prior to the game against the Hurricanes to back up Berra. With the win over the Hurricanes, Pickard had a newfound sense of confidence. Despite his young goaltender’s performance, head coach Patrick Roy still went with his more experienced netminder in the next game in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes.

Once again, after letting in three goals in the first period, Berra would be pulled in favor of Pickard. And just like the game against the Hurricanes, Pickard was perfect the rest of the way allowing the Avalanche to pull off another 4-3 comeback win.

At this point, it was hard for Patrick Roy to not ride his hot goalie and Berra was benched in favor of Pickard when the Avalanche hosted the Chicago Blackhawks on the eve of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for Pickard, his shutout streak would end against the high-scoring offensive powerhouse Hawks team. He nearly escaped regulation with a tie game to help his team earn a point but a late third-period goal from Bryan Bickell would end up being the game-winner for the visiting team.

Pickard would get the next two starts for the Avalanche. One resulted in a win against a tired Dallas Stars team on the tail end of a back-to-back but when the Montreal Canadiens came to the Pepsi Center two nights later, a late third-period goal from Max Pacioretty earned the Habs their victory.

Despite letting in nine goals in his last three games, Pickard proved to be more reliable than Berra. In his seven appearances this season, he has a GAA of 2.49 to go with a save percentage of .922. More importantly, he made key saves to keep his team in the game and arguably stole both games against the Hurricanes and the Coyotes.

With news of Varlamov’s imminent return, Avalanche management would have to make the tough decision of which goaltender to send down to the minors.

The decision is made

On December 2nd, the decision was made early in the day to send Pickard back to Cleveland and to the Monsters. Pickard sent out a tweet thanking Avalanche fans after it was announced.

While his play certainly showed he performed better than Berra, it is important to note that if Berra were to be sent to the Monsters, he would have to clear waivers and the Avalanche would risk losing the goalie they traded a second round draft pick for last season.

The Denver Post reported that Roy and General Manager Joe Sakic had received approval from ownership to send Berra through waivers if they thought that was the best decision but ultimately the decision was made due to consideration for Pickard’s development.

Pickard’s recent five-game stretch showed that he was very much still in the conversation for the Avalanche’s future goaltending plans and it was best if he continued to play a lot of minutes in the AHL instead of limited minutes as Varlamov’s backup. He is still young at only 22 years of age and only in his third full professional season. He has shown he has a lot of promise and his development should not be rushed for the sake of what could possibly be a non-playoff season.

That does not mean this is the last time Avalanche fans will see Pickard this season. If Varlamov’s injury is not fully healed yet or he goes down with another injury, Pickard will be on the next flight to Denver.