Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Next Ones?

Since John Elway and Patrick Roy called it a career, there has been a revolving door of Denver Broncos' quarterbacks and Colorado Avalanche goaltenders.  We've had teases of potential in Jake Plummer, Jose Theodore, Jay Cutler, and Craig Anderson.  With the latter two especially, there was talk that the Broncos/Avalanche had found their long-term solutions.  However, after their brief glimpses of brilliance, they quickly became maligned and shipped out of town.  With their immediate successors, Kyle Orton and Brian Elliott clearly not the long-term solutions, the Broncos and Avalanche both made bold offseason moves by acquiring Tim Tebow and Semyon Varlamov respectively.

Are these players the answers to the questions and controversies surrounding the quarterback and goaltender positions these two franchises have been dealing with for the better part of the last decade?  We shall see.  In Tebow's case, he instantly became the face of the franchise and the entire makeup of Denver sports.  A 2nd round pick in many experts' opinions, the Broncos traded up to take Tebow late in the 1st.  Although the coach and management who drafted Tebow are now gone, Tebow remains and has recently become the starting quarterback after usurping the position from Kyle Orton for the 2nd time in as many years.  While Tebow enjoyed a dramatic 4th quarter comeback win against the Dolphins last week, serious questions remain about his ability to become a legitimate NFL quarterback.  Tebow is a proven winner, dating back to his high school success and his Heisman and NCAA Championship days at the University of Florida, and certainly no one can question his heart and work ethic, but some Broncos fans and Tebow loyalists seem blind to his obvious weaknesses as a quarterback and NFL player.  Can his mechanics and NFL instincts develop to make him a complete quarterback?  That question is about as polarizing as who will win the 2012 presidential election.  To be honest, I'm still not sure how to feel about him.  Is he a legit NFL quarterback now?  Certainly not.  Can he be?  Who knows.  Love him or hate him, he certainly has made the Denver Broncos more relevant than they have been since #7 was tossing the rock.  Never have I seen a quarterback, let alone an athlete in any sport, gain the attention, notoriety, and drama with only 4 NFL starts under his belt.

On July 1, 2011, the Colorado Avalanche were rumored and expected to sign veteran goalie and former NHL all-star Tomas Vokoun, who was set to leave the Florida Panthers for free agency.  However, in a surprise move, the Avs acquired Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals in exchange for their 2012 1st round pick and a conditional 2nd round pick.  Much like the drafting of Tebow, this trade was surrounded by controversy.  Critics of the trade argued that the Avs paid too steep of a price for a somewhat unproven goalie.  Varlamov, who was the 1st round pick of the Caps in 2006 and 23rd overall, boasted impressive stats in his 3 seasons with Washington, 2.39 GAA and .917 save % in the regular season and 2.49 and .915 in the playoffs.  However, Varly only accumulated 59 career regular season games during his 3 year tenure with the Caps due to injuries and goaltending controversies with Washington's other goalies.  The Avs could have signed Vokoun and given up nothing.  However, Vokoun, despite being a very good goalie, is 35, and approaching the twilight of his career.  While he certainly would have been a capable #1 goalie for the Avs this year and maybe for a couple more after that, he would not have been a long-term solution.  At only 23, Varlamov has the potential to be the Avs' #1 goalie for many years to come.  Ultimately, the trade will be validated on the 1st round draft pick the Caps will receive next summer.  If the Avs are a lottery team like they have been in 2 of the last 3 seasons, the Caps will have won.  If the Avs are a playoff team and the 1st round pick turns out to be a mid or late round one and Varly turns out to be the real deal, the Avs will have accomplished what they set out to do.

Right now, Tim Tebow is the biggest sports story in the country, let alone the city of Denver.  Every move he makes on and off the field is a front page headline.  Varlamov actually might benefit from this.  Since the spotlight is clearly on the Broncos' QB, Varly will get to enjoy flying under the radar a bit.  Granted, he's been nothing short of superb during his first 6 Avalanche starts.  He's 4-2 with 1 shutout and in his 2 losses, he can hardly be blamed as the Avs scored 1 combined goal in both those games.  In an 82-game season however, Varly is bound to have a bad game.  When he does, he will receive a lot less criticism from the media and the Colorado fans than when Tebow has 1 bad throw.  Varly certainly does not lack talent and skill.  This made him one of the highest drafted goalies in 2006.  However, a concern about Varlamov is his durability, both physically and mentally.  His injury problems in Washington are disconcerting to some and it was rumored that he was considering leaving the NHL and going back to his native Russia after failing to secure the Caps' starting job.  A move that, had it happened, may have cost him his life as the Russian team who had his rights was the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who died in the terrible plane crash in September.  Needless to say, both Tebow and Varlamov will have to overcome adversity to prove that they are capable of becoming a #1 quarterback and #1 goalie respectively.

Tim Tebow
Work ethic
Ability to inspire others
Proven winner
Passer mechanics
Inability to read NFL defenses

Semyon Varlamov
Injury history
The draft picks given up for him

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