Avs are defending their Stanley Cup championship by going younger and cheaper at goalie. Will it work?


Pavel Francouz is a bargain, and he knows it.

“I mean, I think (there’s) kind of been kind of like a breaking point (among goaltender salaries),” the Avs’ 32-year-old Czech goaltender said in advance of Colorado’s season-opener against Chicago on Wednesday night at Ball Arena.

The right-handed-catching cult favorite — “FRANKIE! FRANKIE!” — on Chopper Circle has a 36-12 record over his past 55 regular-season appearances in an Avs sweater, with a .921 save percentage. In his last 10 postseason showings, seven of which came last spring during Colorado’s Stanley Cup championship run, he’s posted a 7-2 record, 6-0 in May/June of 2022.

But, Frankie is tied for the 45th-highest cap hit among NHL goalies, at $2.0 million, according to Spotrac.  And the man he’ll be sharing time in the crease with, new Avs goalie Alexandar Georgiev, is No. 33, at $3.4 million.

“I don’t think you’re going to see contracts like (Florida’s Sergei) Bobrovsky or what a (Andrei) Vasilevskiy (of Tampa Bay) has,” Francouz said. “I think the team is going to spend more money on the (skaters) and trying to be as effective (as possible) in front of the goalie. But, you know, the trends are changing all the time. It could be long-term or short-term. Who knows?”

Bobrovsky is slated to be a $10-million cap hit for the Panthers this season; Vasilevskiy, whose postseason heroics had led the Lightning to consecutive Cup titles before he ran into the Avs’ buzzsaw this past spring, is on track for $9.5 million.

Colorado, meanwhile, will defend its Stanley Cup championship with only $5.4 million, or 6.77% of its opening night cap space, devoted to the goaltending position. The Avs’ cap percentage dedicated to goalies ranks 25th out of 32 NHL squads.

Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland and president of hockey operations Joe Sakic aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, at least where Cup contenders are concerned. But they are setting their own market when it comes to the brakes — as in, cap money devoted to the goaltending position.

And hockey observers are eager to see how well the pads — brake pads and goalie pads — will hold up for a franchise that’s raising a banner Wednesday night and is favored to do so a year from now, too.

“I’m very curious to see if those guys can hold the fort (in the crease),” Turner Sports hockey analyst and former Avs assistant coach Rick Tocchet said. “Even as good as the Avs are, I think there’s a little bit of a chink in the armor (there) … and I don’t know if you can do a 1A and 1B. I don’t think you can play (both) those guys. I think somebody’s got to take the reins.”

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz (39) ...
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz (39) lines up during introductions before game two of the NHL Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at Ball Arena June 02, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“You don’t need anything spectacular”

The Avs stuck it to the league by sticking to their formula. Basically, if you’re so busy defending your own zone, you’re not going to have enough time — or the energy — to pepper the last line of defense in our zone.

To wit: Colorado ranked fourth among NHL rosters in shots taken per game (35.0) during the ’21-’22 regular season, but just 14th in shots allowed (32.0).

That gap was even more pronounced during the franchise’s dominant Cup run, as the Avs averaged 39.1 shots (No. 3 out of 16 playoff teams) and allowed just 27.9 per game (No. 1).

“The defense is amazing here,” said Georgiev, the lithe Bulgarian-born stopper who was acquired via a trade from the Rangers this past July 7, then signed to a three-year contract shortly thereafter. “I’m grateful to have the chance to play behind these guys.”

After spending the past two years as the backup to Igor Shesterkin, the 26-year-old Georgiev knows he’s jumping onto a moving train along the Front Range. A train with championship expectations.

“I knew I was getting moved,” said the new Avs netminder, who put up a 58-48-11 record with 2.94 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in 129 games with the Rangers. “And (I’m) super excited that this is the team I landed on and that they have confidence in me and (that) I really wanted to be here as well. It’s been the perfect mix.”

The Avs have gone down the “backup-who-could-be-a-No.-1” route before, trading a second-round draft pick for Washington goaltender Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik in June 2018. Grubauer was 66-30-10 in 113 regular-season appearances with the Avs, posting a 2.38 GAA and finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting in 2021, but couldn’t help get the Avs past the second round of the playoffs.

“When you have the high-flying offensive goal support that Colorado has, I think you just need solid goaltending,” Turner Sports hockey analyst Paul Bissonnette said. “You don’t need anything spectacular like Vasilevskiy is going to provide, but I definitely think that somebody’s going to have to step up and take that (mantle).

“You can even go over to Washington last year — they had another very similar situation, where I felt that Washington probably played well enough to beat Florida, but they just didn’t have their (No. 1) guy.”

“Trying to get an advantage”

While Avs coach Jared Bednar didn’t hesitate to turn to Francouz in the postseason when Darcy Kuemper was hurt and/or struggling, last year’s championship run began and ended with Kuemper — who signed a five-year, $26.25-million free-agent deal with the Caps in July — as the top option between the pipes.

MacFarland and Sakic are rolling the dice with the notion that Georgiev is ready to do the same, although the rest of the league hasn’t exactly followed the Avs down the rabbit hole.

Spotrac.com’s NHL payroll tracker shows the average percentage of cap room taken up by goaltenders had risen from 8.8% during the ’20-21 regular season to 9.3% at the start of the ’22-23 season. The tracker listed nine teams that had devoted at least 11% of their cap space to the stoppers in the crease, while only four had allocated 6% or less. Two seasons ago, that ratio was at eight teams and five teams, respectively.

“The general managers are trying to figure little details, little changes and trying to get an advantage,” Francouz shrugged. “So it’s really fun to watch. And I think that’s why we have the salary cap. That makes this league so interesting.”


Source link