The Colorado Avalanche returned third-string goalie Pavel Francouz to the AHL today. Yet, at this point in their season, it is fair to ask whether that move actually makes the team better. The Avs finally snapped a six-game win-less streak on Friday night against the New York Rangers and have fallen out of the once-competitive Central Division race over the past month. Colorado’s struggles are not singular in nature – a lack of secondary scoring and a struggling penalty kill have played a part – but poor performance in net has been the most pressing issue facing the team. After a hot start to the season, Semyon Varlamov has regressed to a .912 save percentage and 2.80 GAA and has missed the team’s past two games with a lower-body injury. Off-season acquisition Philipp Grubauer has yet to settle in with Colorado, holding a career-worst .902 save percentage and 3.13 GAA thus far.
Considering that Varlamov’s play is not currently winning games for the Avalanche, the team could opt to move on from the veteran keeper. Despite Varlamov’s recent slump, the impending unrestricted free agent would still be a valued name on the trade market as the NHL Trade Deadline grows closer. Several teams will be looking for a rental for the stretch run and postseason and Varlamov could potentially be the closest thing to a bona fide starter that could hit the market. Why then would the playoff-bound Avalanche want to move Varlamov if he’s still a top NHL option? The return would be substantial and could – either directly or by flipping part of the return – result in Colorado adding the forward depth they so desperately need. It was recently reported that the Avs are hesitant to move their top prospects and young roster players for help, which could force them to move an established veteran like Varlamov.
The Avalanche could benefit from some addition by subtraction when it comes to Varlamov as well. The aforementioned Francouz, in his first season in North America after an illustrious European career, has made the transition look easy this season. Recently named an AHL All-Star, Francouz, 28, has a .919 save percentage and 2.65 GAA through 23 games with the Colorado Eagles. Perhaps more impressively, Francouz has made two NHL relief appearances and has saved 33 of the 35 shots that he faced (.943 SV%). The Denver Post’s Sean Keeler writes that head coach Jared Bednar considered making Francouz the starter over Grubauer last night and opined that the current third-string could be the X-factor for the Avs this season. Francouz is also an impending UFA and the team should take a longer look at him this season to determine if he could be a long-term option alongside Gruabauer. An extended stay in Denver this season would certainly help convince Francouz to stick around as well.
Of course, if the Avalanche were to trade Varlamov this season, it would very likely hurt their chances at a Stanley Cup title. Despite his struggles, Varlamov has outplayed Grubauer and has years of success to fall back on, as opposed to his young backup and Francouz, an unproven import. Colorado would likely have to turn around and add another option in net if they were to trade Varlamov. However, given that the Avs face a probable playoff route through the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets this season, it could be that they favor improving the team for the future rather than clinging to slim title chances. The team could also feel that addressing their needs at forward is a priority compared to maintaining depth in net.
What do you think? Should the Avalanche change things up by trading Varlamov for young pieces or forward help and hand the reins to Grubauer and Francouz? Or should they hold on to their established starter in hopes that it is their best chance at a Cup run this season?
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