This summer, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Philipp Grubauer, the former backup of the Washington Capitals. With incumbent Semyon Varlamov in the final year of his deal, it seemed an appropriate time to bring in a young up-and-comer like Grubauer. After backing up Braden Holtby for the past few seasons, Grubauer’s strong play drew the attention of Avs General Manager Joe Sakic.
Given Varlamov’s injury history, a solid second option in net definitely shores things up for the team. Grubauer, though, could be in line to expand his role and take over as the number one.
However, Varly isn’t going down without a fight. And right now, he’s winning.
Semyon Varlamov Re-Asserting Himself as Avs’ Starter
Six games into the 2018-19 season, Colorado sports a 3-1-2 record. That gives them eight points and is good enough for the third place spot in the Central Division. When breaking it up by player, the stats tell a more interesting story.
So far, Semyon Varlamov possesses a strong 3-0-2 record. This means he has been in nets for all of Colorado’s points this year. With Varly, the Avs picked up eight of a possible ten points. That’s a 131-point pace over a full season.
On the other end, Grubauer is 0-1-0. In that loss, Grubauer gave up four goals on 34 shots. That leaves him with a .882 save percentage on the season thus far, far below where the Avs would like him to be.
The Story So Far: Varlamov > Grubauer
Semyon Varlamov, in every start, has been outstanding. He’s only given up more than two goals in a game once. That occurred in a 3-2 overtime defeat where he made 38 saves on 41 shots. Truth be told, he was the only reason they earned a point that night. He carried the team through regulation and into overtime on a night that they were badly outplayed.
Varly has been good every other night, too. He sports a .948 save percentage and a 1.47 goals against average. Those are good for fourth- and eighth-best in the league, respectively.
Grubauer, although not the sole reason they lost in his one start, simply hasn’t been near the level Varlamov is playing at. For now, there’s little debate over which is the team’s go-to-guy in net: Varly’s keeping his title.
Future of Colorado’s Crease
Should things continue as they are right now, and Semyon Varlamov stays healthy, the team will probably work to re-sign him. Grubauer’s already signed for the next two seasons after 2018-19 at a $3.33 million cap hit per season. Colorado can fit him and Varlamov for that time frame without too much of an issue, as long as he isn’t expecting a massive raise.
With priority pieces like Alexander Kerfoot, Mikko Rantanen, Nikita Zadorov, and J.T. Compher all becoming RFA’s this summer, the team won’t have a lot of extra money to throw Varly’s way. He’s earning $5.9 million per year right now. The Avs have a little over $11 million in cap space, but much of it is ear-marked for others already. Rantanen will earn the largest raise, potentially up to the $6 million annually, with Kerfoot not far behind him (he’ll probably get offered somewhere near the $4.5 million). Zadorov could go from his $2.15 million hit to somewhere around $3.5 million. Compher is the toughest to project, as he’s had a surprisingly strong start this year. On the high end, he could maybe jump from less than $1 million to just under $3 million annually.
Should all those guys receive the raises laid out above, and again those are really rough estimates off the cuff, the team will spend somewhere from $8 to $12 million more on those four guys alone. If Semyon Varlamov sticks to his current pay rate, they can likely fit the whole group under the cap. However, if he’s looking for a raise, he won’t get much more with Colorado.
What Can Semyon Varlamov Earn?
To Colorado’s benefit, Varly probably won’t get many offers for much more than he’s making right now anyways. On the open market, players typically can attract a salary above what they’d be able to negotiate as an RFA or in a standard extension. This is simply because free agency turns into an auction, forcing teams to beat one another to land a player.
Varlamov, though, may not have any suitors if his ask is north of $6 million. Even a spectacular season this year cannot erase his injury history. Cup contenders looking for a stud in net probably aren’t about to gamble on someone as injury-prone as Varly. That is especially true when viewing the class of goaltenders who are due to hit the open market with him next summer.
Besides Varly, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, Cam Talbot, Jimmy Howard, and Brian Elliott will all be UFA’s come July 1st. Now, you can make an argument between each of their abilities in comparison to Varlamov. At the end of the day, they’re all starting goaltenders on their respective teams. They’re proven number-one guys too. Some may be worse (or better), but they’re at least in the same class as starters. Most GM’s will favour targeting less injury-prone options first, and the pay scale decreases for guys like Semyon Varlamov due to the time he’s spent on the IR.
Increasing Odds Varly Remains in Denver
Ultimately, we’re still less than ten games into the season. Grubauer will get plenty more opportunities, and Varlamov has a long way to go to keep his numbers high while avoiding injuries. A lot can still happen. If the current trend continues, though, Grubauer might just be backing up Varlamov beyond this season.
Every day that goes by, and every game that Varly outperforms Grubauer, the odds increase that he stays put. Sakic would be silly to let a proven number one escape in favour of a goalie who has yet to prove to be anything more than a solid backup. Every night the Avs play, this situation is under a magnifying glass. Keep an eye on it.
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