July 9, 2022
So in gratitude for Joe Sakic allowing Chris Drury control of the remote control when
they were Colorado Avalanche road roommates, Drury -- now the New York Rangers' general manager -- sent Sakic a goaltender
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The deal, of course, was Rangers' backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev to the Avalanche
for three draft choices -- a third- and fifth-rounder in this year's draft and a fifth-rounder in 2023.
Darcy Kuemper will
hit the open market on Wednesday and all figuratively will shake his hand in gratitude as he exits and even congratulate him
as he signs with another team as an unrestricted free agent, for more than the Avalanche could pay or were willing to pay
as Sakic prioritizes his off-season moves.
I had thought Kuemper would be allowed to walk. But I also believed that after being
emboldened by winning the Stanley Cup with decent -- and no better than that -- goaltending, the Avalanche might move forward
with Pavel Francouz as the starter and with prospect Justus Annunen as the backup. (Kuemper had three good games in the spotlight
in the six-game Stanley Cup Final, but his .902 save percentage in the playoffs was the lowest for a Cup-winning goalie in
Going with Francouz and Annunen would have left the Avalanche in much-improved cap situation. That still will be
the case, to a lesser degree. Francouz is under contract through 2023-24, with an annual cap hit of $2 million. Georgiev,
who can be a restricted free agent next week (more on that in a moment), had a cap hit of $2.4 million last season.
bargain No. 1 goaltending.
But what all this again made clear is that while the Avalanche shower Francouz with
praise at every opportunity, and even tout his 6-0 record in the recent playoffs, they consider him no more than a serviceable
backup. His playoff goals-against was 2.81 and his save percentage was .906. Yes, after winning the Cup with decent
goaltending, they've admitted that at least heading into next season, they aren't confident Francouz can provide even
Sakic made that clear withn his pronouncement that Georgiev -- despite a mediocre track record as a Rangers backup
to, first, Henrik Lundqvist, and then Igor Shesterkin -- was acquired to be the No. 1 and Francouz was projected as the No.
Beyond that, think of the stunning lack of faith in Francouz the Avalanche showed. Kuemper remained the No. 1 for
most of the playoff run following the eye injury he suffered when taking a stick to the eye from Nashville's Ryan Johansen
in Game 3 of the first round. He also removed himself from the crease in Game 1 against Edmonton because of the vision issue
and didn't play in the remaining three games. But he was back in the net for the Finals.
One of Jared Bednar's post-championship
revelations on his radio show was that at one point -- the timeframe is foggy -- Kuemper was visiting an optometrist two or
three times a day to "retrain" his eye. That's the guy you want in the net with the Cup at stake?
It was a courageous,
praiseworthy performance by Kuemper, but indicative of the Avalanche's glaring lack of confidence in Francouz. As is this
strategy moving forward. Make no mistake, it would be ridiculous to second-guess the strategy, given what happened. How would
the Avalanche have done with Francouz in the net? We'll never know. What they did worked.
The assumption is that the Avalanche have been assured they can sign Georgiev. Even with a healthy raise -- or a
deal worthy of the goalie the GM has declared to be the starter -- he'll be under Kuemper's $4.5 million cap hit for last
OK, but what
of Georgiev, the goalie?
Can be be more than a Kuemper succcessor, being counted on to provide at best intermittently terrific work
in the net? In other words, can be a bona fide No. 1 for the NHL's defending champions?
We'll see. The evidence
is mixed. The native of Bulgaria has posted unimpressive numbers -- a 2.93 goals-against average and .909 save percentage
-- in 131 NHL games. Despite a much-cited 8-1 run down the stretch of last season, including a 44-save shutout against Carolina
when Shesterkin was out, Georgiev's save percentage of .898 for 2021-22 was below the Mendoza Line. His goals-against (2.92)
was similarly lackluster.
Shesterkin won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender for 2021-22, so not
being able to beat him out as the starter after Lundqvist's departure is not particularly a red flag.
Yet Georgiev has much to
prove. What the Avalanche are hoping for, mostly, is that Georgiev and Francouz provide them with first-class goaltending,
regardless of how the workload is split.
UPDATE, July 10: The Avalanche Sunday announced
they indeed had signed Georgiev to a new three-year contract, three days before he could have been a restricted free agent. Capfriendly.com noted Georgiev will receive $3.6 million,
$3.7 million and $2.9 million in the next three seasons, making it a $10.2 million deal. His annual cap hit is $3.4 million.