The Colorado Avalanche have a goaltending controversy on their hands. They acquired Pavel Francouz intending to make him a backup but the 29-year-old Czech has put himself in a position to be the starter when hockey comes back. The Avs struggled for years to find a consistent goaltender. Could Francouz be the answer?
Pavel Francouz Challenging for Starting Job
Francouz was one of the best goaltenders outside of North America when Colorado signed him for 2018-19. He posted a save percentage above .920 three straight seasons in the KHL. He wasn’t quite as good representing the Czech Republic on the world stage but was still an above-average goaltending option. Some of that is because the Czechs do not always have the strongest team compared to their international peers.
Francouz played in two games last season but most of his time was spent with Colorado’s AHL affiliate. He was very good despite an adjustment to North American hockey. Francouz played in 49 games with a .918 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against-average during the suspended current season. He has better numbers than Philipp Grubauer in almost as many minutes on the ice. Grubauer has a .916 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against-average while playing in just two more games with far more games to his credit. Francouz has embraced North America and is on the cusp of seizing the starting gig when play resumes.
It is very difficult to compare goaltenders, even when they are on the same team, because of the randomness that comes with the position. Both faced an average of roughly 29 shots per game with different results. However, Evolving Hockey’s model for measuring goalie production indicates that Francouz outperformed his expected goals-against by almost seven goals based on shot data.
Grubauer underperformed his expected goals-against by over a goal. That leads to the possibility that Francouz got very lucky in his games but Grubauer was slightly unlucky. The one area where Francouz did worse than Grubauer was really bad starts; Francouz had five starts with a save percentage below 85 percent. Grubauer had four.
Should Francouz be the Starter Moving Forward?
Francouz was a wildcard when the season started but performed well enough to snag a contract extension earlier this season. He will continue to battle Grubauer for the starting job when hockey resumes. His strong play means Colorado has a goalie controversy on its hands. Grubauer makes more money, has a longer track record, and can argue his struggles this year are due to a combination of things like injury and bad luck. Grubauer can certainly point to stretches last year into the playoffs where he was borderline dominant.
However, Francouz has a history of being elite in Russia and has excelled in his first full NHL season. He has made a strong case for himself as the starter moving forward. Francouz can cite strong overall numbers along with the fact that he is only an inch shorter than Grubauer. Height can be a factor with goaltending but it hasn’t bothered the 6′-0″ Francouz. The biggest disadvantage for Francouz is he hasn’t dealt with the NHL playoffs. Grubauer was incredible for Colorado last year and would be the starter if the playoffs happen at some point this year.
Colorado has a strong duo regardless of who starts. Modern goaltending strategy also split starts more evenly between two goalies unless one is outright terrible. Francouz has been far better in 2019-20 but would need to sustain his strong play to truly seize the starting job. The most likely scenario is Francouz and Grubauer continue to split starts evenly but a strong 2020-21 for Francouz could give make him the starter in 2021-22.
Colorado will need to decide on Grubauer’s contract after next season. Pavel Francouz could be the starter if the team chooses to let Grubauer leave in the next offseason.