Colorado Avalanche Goalies Set for Starting Job Duel

In today’s NHL, teams coming off a Stanley Cup Championship typically face losing a valuable player or two in the off-season. That’s mainly due to the salary cap, especially since it hasn’t moved much since the pandemic began. Usually, it comes down to a big name reaching free agency, or a couple of depth players who priced themselves out during the Cup run. In the case of the Colorado Avalanche, it’s a little bit of all of that. They feel it on both ends of the ice. Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky both hit the open market. As did starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper.  Kuemper’s departure leaves the Colorado Avalanche with goalies duelling over Kuemper’s old starting role.

Colorado Avalanche Goalies Set to Duel

Not often do the Cup champs enter the next season without a clear starter. Joe Sakic did say newly-acquired goaltender Alexandar Georgiev would be that guy. However, Pavel Francouz likely has something to say about that. Neither goaltender has experience as an NHL number one, so either could take the reins.

By that same token, the most likely outcome is to see them split games until one or the other takes over the crease. Especially on an Avs team with enough talent and depth to win games with average (or even below average) goaltending, the idea that one needs to surface as the bonafide starter right away simply isn’t true.

All of that said, the Colorado Avalanche still certainly hope both goalies perform. If one exceeds expectations and becomes a legit starter, the team won’t complain. And they won’t care which of the two it is, so long as at least one gets the job done.

The Case for Alexandar Georgiev

Georgiev looked poised to take over the crease for the New York Rangers back in the first couple of years of his NHL career. When he reached the NHL, long-time starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist was winding down his career. In 2018-19, Georgiev served as Lundqvist’s sole backup and understudy. In fact, his .914 save percentage bested Lundqvist’s .907. Georgiev also held a winning record of 14-13-4, while Lundqvist went 18-23-10. The following season, Georgiev became the first goalie to start more games than Lundqvist in his entire 15-year career. That also made him the first goalie besides Lundqvist to lead the Rangers in starts since before the 2005 lockout. Clearly, fans witnessed the end of an era.
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Lundqvist didn’t play another NHL game after that year, so the transition to Georgiev appeared certain. Then, Igor Shesterkin appeared and changed everything. Shesterkin played a handful of games that year with Georgiev and Lundqvist and looked great. Then in 2020-21, he stole the job right out from under Georgiev and paced the team with 31 starts (13 more than Georgiev). Rightfully so, too; Shesterkin looks like an elite NHL goaltender, and Georgiev’s numbers dipped behind his as well.

Georgiev Deep Dive

Most recently, Georgiev went 15-10-2 as Shesterkin’s backup in 2021-22. He made it clear he desired to be traded, as he wanted an opportunity as a team’s starter. However, his play hasn’t reflected that desire. He only posted a .464 quality start percentage, paired with a downright bad .898 save percentage. Shesterkin, on the other hand, posted a .731 quality start percentage, .935 save percentage, and 36-13-4 record. There is no question why the Rangers are moving forward with Shesterkin and away from Georgiev.

Whether he earned it or not, Georgiev now has the opportunity he wanted. And, he has it on a team fresh off a Stanley Cup Championship. The Colorado Avalanche make their goalies’ lives easy, especially compared to the Rangers. Though Shesterkin posted phenomenal numbers, he really did so despite all the odds. New York is a young team, one that struggles in their own end and gives up a lot of high-danger shots. Shesterkin carried them to the postseason, and then to the Eastern Conference Final, this past year. Not many other goalies in the NHL, if any, could have done that. So even if Georgiev isn’t on-par with Shesterkin, he certainly could be plenty successful with the Avs’ defence in front of him. Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Bowen Byram are a major upgrade over K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, and Adam Fox. And that’s saying a lot because Miller, Trouba and Fox aren’t bad defencemen by any means.

Maybe Georgiev’s poor performance came in part due to the internal competition with Shesterkin and feeling as if the whole situation was unjustified. But the NHL, like everything else in life, isn’t always fair. To be the best, players must outperform the rest of the best and then continue doing so day after day, month after month, and year after year. Nothing gets handed out, and Georgiev learned that the hard way. A fresh start could be just what he needs.

The Case for Pavel Francouz

Francouz knows Colorado, entering his fifth season with the franchise. But, he doesn’t know what it’s like playing the lion’s share of the games during an NHL season. His highest total came in 2019-20 when he appeared in 34 contests, of which he started 30. And really, though it’s his fifth season as a member of the Avs organization, it’ll be just his third as a full-time member of the NHL squad. When he first came over from the KHL ahead of 2018-19, he played the whole year with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL. He only appeared in two games at the NHL level that season. Then, despite graduating to the role of NHL backup the next season, he missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season dealing with an injury.
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So, it’s been up-and-down for Francouz. On the plus side, he’s coming off a good season as the team’s number two. He carried a .916 save percentage during the regular season, sporting a 15-5-1 record. Then, he went 6-0 in the postseason while Kuemper dealt with an eye injury. Though he posted all those wins during the two series that the Avs swept, his contribution to their Cup victory can’t go unnoticed.

Francouz Deep Dive

Those regular season stats look good, but there are some hidden bits in the numbers worth discussing. First off, the team played him in games against mostly other franchises that missed the playoffs. So, the quality of his opponents wasn’t very high. In fact, his quality start percentage actually came out to a disappointing .333%, meaning he only really contributed a noteworthy performance in one-third of his starts. Kuemper posted a better save percentage (.921%) and quality start percentage (.561%) despite facing better competition and playing a significantly larger quantity of games.

Now, maybe Francouz would benefit from playing more often. Maybe he needs to be tested more and playing weak opponents actually hindered him. It’s not uncommon for goalies to get in a rhythm when facing a steady stream of shots. On the other hand, seeing 25 shots or less can take a goalie out of focus, making them prone to letting in a soft goal more easily.

Colorado Avalanche Goalies and the Starting Battle

Ultimately, Georgiev and Francouz will both get plenty of games in 2022-23. That is unless one takes off and posts the best season of their young careers, or the other crashes and burns harder than ever before. Again this Avs team makes goaltending significantly easier than most other franchises. There’s no question this factored in tremendously to their Cup title this summer. They learned from previous seasons, where Philipp Grubauer got hurt in the postseason, as well as Francouz, the significance of both goaltending depth and defensive ability. Those lessons came in handy when Kuemper missed parts of the First Round and all of the Western Conference Final.

Besides Toews, Makar and Byram, they still have Erik Johnson and Samuel Girard back on their blueline. Plus all the talent up front, Colorado enters next year as the odds-on favourites to win the Cup. They would join an exclusive club if they go back-to-back. And whether Georgiev or Francouz leads the way in net, this team is more than capable of doing so.