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Numbers Game: Avalanche add a pair of goaltenders

Scott Cullen
7/1/2011 10:09:43 PM
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Subpar goaltending derailed the Colorado Avalanche in 2010-2011, so they went out and found a promising young goalie and a veteran backup to hopefully shore up the position.

Numbers Game looks at Colorado's acquisitions of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere.

The Avalanche Get: G Semyon Varlamov and G Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Varlamov, 23, has been a promising goaltender in the Washington Capitals' system for a few years now and could easily be an established starting goaltender in the league already if he had managed to stay healthy.

Alas, Varlamov hasn't played more than 33 games in any of his three North American pro seasons, as groin and knee injuries have hindered him in the last couple of seasons.

When he does play, however, Varlamov has shown the ability that would be expected of a 2006 first-round pick, posting a .917 save percentage in 59 regular season games, along with a .915 save percentage in 19 career playoff games.

The Avalanche immediately signed Varlamov, who was a restricted free agent, to a three-year, $8.5-million deal (according to www.capgeek.com), so they are clearly expecting him to take on the starting role. Given Varlamov's performance, he should be up to the task, if he's healthy.

Ay, there's the rub. We don't yet know if Varlamov is capable of staying healthy enough to play 50-plus games, but this situation isn't altogether different from the approach Dallas took in acquiring Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta. While Lehtonen had played more games in Atlanta prior to gettting traded, he had ongoing groin problems and was regarded as having unfulfilled potential when the Stars acquired him; Lehtonen ended up playing 69 games for the Stars last season.

If he can stay healthy, maybe Varlamov turns into the long-term solution at the position that the Avalanche have been seeking.

As short-term insurance, the Avalanche also have 34-year-old Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who they added as a free agent, signing him to a two-year deal worth $2.5-million.

Giguere's save percentage over the last three seasons is .902, so he's performing like a backup goaltender. However, the appeal to being the veteran backup for the Avalanche is that Giguere has the potential to play quite a bit if Varlamov can't stay healthy.

Toronto appears to be prepared to go into next season with Jonas Gustavsson, who is already under contract, in the backup role, so it was easy to let Giguere explore his value on the open market.

The Capitals Get: A first-round pick and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013.

Getting Colorado's first-round pick has a chance to be very valuable -- they've picked in the top three in two of the last three drafts -- but if Colorado gets adequate goaltending, there's a much better chance that the first-round pick is closer to the middle of the round, if not later.

The Avalanche are a relatively young team, though, so if they don't take the next step towards contention next year, there exists the real possibility that the Capitals could reap a great reward in the 2012 draft.

Nevertheless, considering that the Capitals already have promising young goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in the organization and with Varlamov threatening to leave for the KHL (whether leverage for contract negotiations or not), it made sense to maximize the value that Washington would get in return.

When the Avalanche couldn't get free agent Tomas Vokoun under contract, it made sense to look for a young goaltender that could be a long-term starter for the franchise and Colorado was aggressive in addressing their need; maybe a little too aggressive, but that will depend a lot on Varlamov's health.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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