Heading into free agency, the needs of the Colorado Avalanche were very clear: Find a goalie that can be relied on every night to start.
It’s a problem that has plagued the team since the retirement of Patrick Roy, and as the anniversary of Roy’s departure nears 10 seasons, the team may not be any closer to solving it.
Aebischer, Theodore, Budaj, Anderson and others have all tried to fill the enormous shoes but to no avail.
Some were surprised that the Avalanche decided not to extend a qualifying offer to recently acquired goaltender Brian Elliot, but it really should not have come as a shock.
Elliot was wholly unimpressive in his short time with the Avalanche, which essentially was nothing more than a prolonged tryout.
Once the relationship with the Avalanche and Craig Anderson turned sour, there was no doubt that the goaltender was going to depart from Denver at season's end. With that knowledge, the Avalanche and the Senators realized that they were in similar situations and decided to see if a change of scenery might benefit their respective goalies.
Each team gave the other a chance to take the goalies for a test drive with no contracts looming over their heads to worry about. If the experiment was a failure (as in the case of Elliot and the Avalanche), the team was able to cut bait with nothing lost.
In the case of the Senators, they enjoyed what that saw and used the opportunity to lock up Anderson before he hit the open market.
Do the Avalanche wish that things would have worked out with Elliot? Absolutely.
However, because they knew that Anderson was as good as gone, they really lost nothing in the exchange. Add to the mix the fact that the Avalanche knew what kind of talent was going to be available in free agency, and the deal continues to make sense…unless you were a huge Craig Anderson fan.
There was hope that in this free agent class, there were names that carried enough clout to at least hold their own when compared to Roy.
Tomas Vokoun was chief among them, and the early favorite to garner the majority of the Avalanche’s attention at the outset of free agency.
Although, by the time some of the dust had settled, the Avalanche had eschewed conventional wisdom and decided to trade for a goalie instead of signing one, at least initially.
The Avalanche found an eager trading partner in the Washington Capitals, who were glad to part with the young, and sometimes promising, Semyon Varlamov in exchange for a 2012 first round pick and second round pick in either 2012 or 2013
In a subsequent move, the Avalanche signed veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere.
Problem in goal solved, right?
Wrong. The problems may have just begun.
By choosing to mortgage the future (or at least near future) on the acquisition of Varlamov, there will be very high expectations for the unproven goaltender.
If the Avalanche fail to improve dramatically, their first round pick in 2012 will most likely be an early selection, and certainly higher than the 23rd choice, which was used by Washington on Varlamov in 2006.
That means that a team like Washington, who will undoubtedly finish near the top of the standings and would be nowhere near a top 10 pick on their own, will have a shot at one this coming year. And all they had to give up was a prospect that they believe will never reach his full potential anyway.
Think about it this way: If this trade had happened two seasons ago, then Matt Duchene could be skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin. There is no reason that the rich should continue to be spoiled like that when a team like the Avalanche needs to acquire talent through the draft, as it may offer them their only real opportunity at getting better.
Not only did the Avalanche part with a first round pick for Varlamov, though, they also threw in a second rounder to sweeten the pot, but whom were the Avalanche trying to outbid?
Obviously if Varlamov comes in and plays to the potential he has shown flashes of in his brief career, the picks that were traded for him will be inconsequential since solving the goaltending issue was the most important problem.
Still, the Avalanche didn’t do the young tender any favors by bringing a highly decorated veteran to back him up.
When a player with the playoff record of JS Giguere is sitting on the bench every night, it might be very tempting for Coach Sacco to pull the plug on Varlamov at the first sign of trouble.
Giguere might be the most “Roy-like” of any goaltender that the Avalanche have brought in, but at 35, the better days are behind him. If they were going to sign an aging goalie, then why not go after Vokoun?
The answer to that is because the Avalanche knew that Washington was going after him. If the money is the same in both places, but one city offers a much quicker opportunity for a Stanley Cup run, one that would validate Vokoun’s career, there is no question who wins in that scenario.
So, love the deal or hate the deal, the Avalanche chose to take a gamble on the fact that while Varlamov might not be ready to fit the “Win-now” mentality of the Capitals like Vokoun, he might grow into the player who guarantees success for years to come in Colorado.
The biggest worry for the team should not be how each goalie will perform, but instead how Joe Sacco will handle the dichotomy that he has in the position.
When a young goalie is struggling, the fans will clamor for the steadying hand of the veteran.
Conversely, when the old veteran seems to be running out of gas, the supporters will beg for the young gun to come in and get on a roll.
Joe Sacco has his work cut out for him, and he had better be up to the task of handling a brewing goalie controversy.
In fact, if Varlamov has a shaky camp, it would not be surprising to see the dependable veteran in net against the Detroit Red Wings on opening night.
After that…get your tickets, because the goalie carousel will be running all season long in Colorado.
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