Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Men Behind The Masks

In December of 1995, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender of all-time.  Until his retirement in 2003, a goaltending controversy was the furthest thing the Avs experienced.  The Avs and Roy went on to win 2 Stanley Cups during that time, captured a record number of consecutive division titles, and almost always had lengthy playoff runs.

However, since Roy hung up the skates in '03, the Avs' crease has been just as crowded and uncertain as the Denver Broncos' starting quarterbacks since John Elway's retirement.  Sure, part of the problem could be that Roy and Elway set the bar so high that their successors could not live up to the tremendous expecatations, but the fact remains that the Avs and Broncos are still waiting for their next big goalie and quarterback respectively. 

The season following Roy's retirement, his understudy, David Aebischer was tapped to take the reigns.  The feeling that year was that even if Aebi was no Roy, the Avs had enough talent in front of him to make a run for the Cup.  They had just signed coveted free agent all-stars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne in addition to Avs' staples Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Rob Blake and Adam Foote on defense.  The Avs made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the San Jose Sharks in 6 games.  The next season (2 years later due to the lockout), the Avs brass lost faith in Aebi and brought up Vitaly Kolesnik to compete for the starting job with Aebi and Peter Budaj.  Never a good sign when a team is carrying 3 goalies.  Eventually, Aebischer was traded for former Montreal Canadiens MVP Jose Theodore.  Unfortunately, Avs fans had to wait a bit to see Theo as he was injured at the time of the acquisition.  Once he regained his health, he became the starter and guided the Avs again to the second round.  In his 2+ years with the Avs, Theo experienced some success, but never the level he once achieved in Montreal nor the level Avs fans were hoping for.  He eventually left for Washington, leaving Peter Budaj the starter.  After the tandem of Budaj and Andrew Raycroft led the Avs to their worst season since moving to Colorado, the Avs signed Craig Anderson from Florida.

In his late 20s at the time, Anderson had never gotten the chance to be a starter, but had fantastic numbers as Tomas Vokoun's backup in Florida.  He came to Colorado at the change to be an NHL starting goalie and right out of the gate, he excelled.  He almost single-handedly guided the Avs from a last place team to a playoff team.  There was no All-Star Game that season due to the Olympics, but he would have almost certainly been named.  He was also almost named to Team U.S.A.  After that run, it seemed the Avs had found their next goalie.  However, after a couple of early injuries and struggles in 2010, Andy never really regained his 2009-10 form.  In February, in a surprise move, the Avs traded Anderson to Ottawa in exchange for Brian Elliott.  Elliott and Budaj both struggled mightily for the remainder of the season  while Anderson actually enjoyed some success in Ottawa and signed a 4-year extension.

Where to go from here?  If you would have asked me in April, right after the Avs season ended, I would have loved to make a run for former Phoenix and Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  However, he had a very poor playoff series against Detroit.  In his defense, Phoenix was simply outmatched.  His rights have since been traded to Philadelphia, who is apparently interested in paying him $7 million per year.  I don't think the Avs would have gone that route.  Of the other free agent veteran goalie out there are Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who is a former Conn Smythe winner and a former Stanley Cup winner.  However, he is 34 and has battled numerous injuries of late.  His signing as a starter would certainly come with a big risk.  A more likely and attractive candidate might be Florida's Tomas Vokoun (whom Anderson backed up in Florida).  Like Giguere, he is also 34, but has not battled chronic groin injuries like Giguere.  Vokoun was also recently quoted saying he wouldn't mind coming to Colorado because he thinks we have a chance to win a Cup soon.  I would be okay with that!

Another option for the Avs is to acquire a current backup deserving of a starting shot.  The top two candidates on my list are Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier (22) and Vancouver's Cory Schneider (25).  In order to get either of these goalies, the Avs would have to make sacrifices via trade however.  They do have two 1st round picks this upcoming draft on Friday and could also trade current players and prospects.  The Avs did draft Calvin Pickard last year in the 2nd round.  A young goalie who many feel could be the future starter here in Colorado.  However, he is still only 19 and will require probably at least two more years in the minors.  If Pickard can eventually emerge as a #1 guy, a stopgap goalie like Vokoun would not be a bad choice for the interim. 

The Avs all but announced that Peter Budaj's days with the team are over.  His 6 years with the team marks the second longest tenure for an Avs goalie behind Patrick Roy.  Everyone had always said that Budaj is a good guy and a very hard worker.  At the end of the day however, he just was never able to elevate his game to the next level.  My guess is that he'll go over to Europe to start somewhere or take another backup gig in the NHL.  I think Elliott will likely be signed to a backup role.  At the end of the day, I would like to see Bernier or Schneider in the Avs net, assuming they do not have to give up too much.  If that fails, I would take Vokoun as well.

The thing with drafting goalies is that they never jump straight from the draft to the NHL. Even #1 overall picks like Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury both spend considerable time in the minors. You would think that since goalie is such a vital position, they would be drafted more like quarterbacks in football, but it pretty much never happens that way. Patrick Roy was a 2nd rounder and Brodeur was late 1st round. Tim Thomas was 9th round and he didn't get good until his 30s! So, to answer your question, I don't know about Pickard. There does seem to be a lot of hype surrounding him, but that also might be because he's the only up-and-coming goalie prospect in the Avs system. It certainly would not hurt to draft another goalie or two this weekend, but definitely not in the first round. Maybe in like the 3rd round or later and hope they develop well in juniors.

1 comment:

  1. Although we've seen recent success of older Goalies like Tim Thomas, I agree with you preferring some young blood. The Avs are not ready to make a run for the cup right now, so a young, affordable goalie is not a bad idea. Do you think that the Avs would make any move to pickup a goalie in the 1st round? Or is Pickard really good enough to eventually start?