Welcome to the Burgundy Debate Club! We’ve again tasked a pair of our staff writers to present why, and then why won’t, a certain Avalanche player might find success this coming season. In this episode, Mike@MHH makes the case for and earl06 makes the case against Mr Semyon Varlamov. Take it away, Mike
0.927, 0.921, 0.914, 0.898. That’s the trend in Semyon Varlamov’s save percentage since Roy’s miracle ’13-’14 season when Varly set the franchise win record and frustrated shooters across the league. Now, I know what you’re saying, “Mike, you adorable bastard, you’re supposed to be writing for the ‘pro Varly’ position, and frankly, that isn’t an encouraging beginning.” And to that I say I prefer the term “ruggedly handsome in an understated, yet sophisticated and refreshing way.” But I digress… Perhaps not coincidentally, the Avalanche finished with 52, 39, 39, and 22 wins in that same span. There’s a pretty strong argument that as Varlamov goes, so go the Avalanche. The eye test proves that out. When he’s locked in, the core of this team plays looser and better. They aren’t looking over their shoulder. He’s a stabilizing presence and has been since he took the job back from JS Giguere in his first season with the Avalanche.
The big elephant in the room is that Varly appeared on the injured list 4 times in ’14-’15 with his wonky groin, once in ’15-’16 and 3 times last season before getting shut down for hip surgery. By all accounts, he tried to play through the injury last season because he felt he needed to be part of the team turning things around. He started seven games after Erik Johnson went down with a broken leg and hit the list again in the middle of it. He may have done more harm than good. Still, that speaks to me of a player that wants to be part of the solution in Colorado. One of those ‘winners’ that management and fans want in the room.
This team has been built (in varying degrees) over his tenure with the team to push play and drive the tempo with speed and some would say reckless abandon. You can’t do that if you don’t have high faith in the netminder. Younger/faster is the buzzword and the Avs will definitely need the ‘faster’ part in their backstop. They also need to establish a culture of something other than losing. Varly has been parts of both, but I believe he isn’t one to take suckitude as the status quo. He can be part of a return to a winning culture for those young players as they learn to play fast.
You’d be hard pressed to find anybody who feels that Varlamov isn’t the most talented goalie on the Avs’ roster in the last 4 or 5 seasons. And for good reason: it’s because he is. And that’s not even considering his shootout prowess. With a long recovery after surgery now behind him, he looks fresh. He looked like ’13-’14 Varly in the opener against the Rangers. Explosive, confident, and with a little bit of swagger. He’s right in the typical window for a goaltender’s prime at 29-years-old and is likely starting to think about his last contract opportunity after next season. A familiar voice in new goalie coach Jussi Parkkila will also go a long way in getting #whynotus Varly back.
So in summary, his nagging injury is (hopefully) behind him, he’s got a fresh gaggle of players in front of him, he has a new (old) goaltending coach who’s full-time and knows him better than any other coach on the planet, he has a desire to win in Colorado, the team identity is built (at least partly) with someone of his talent level in mind, and early returns suggest a return to a winning form for Varlamov.
And now for the contra position, Mr 06 you have the floor
As much as I’d like to believe Varly’s injury issues were solved by surgery and hard work over the past 9 months, that spectre will be following him around until his groin doesn’t explode once again. Right now having an excellent backup in Jon Bernier makes it easy for the Avs staff to rotate the two and keep Varly from having to put more stress on his body than it can take. If something happens to Bernie there is no plan C in the organization at this point so it would be #1 every night until further notice. Not his fault at all but that’s a major hole in the franchise today.
Other than wondering about injuries that may not even be likely, there are the concerns most people outside of the Avalanche organization have about whether Varly is actually good or not. It’s a valid question. Is he a product of solid numbers on a good team but notso hotso when he needs to carry a mediocre one? It sure looks like it. He’s got a career save percentage of .916 with an expected Sv% of .920.
Since the miracle year of 2013-14, Varly has seen drops in his save percentage and his ability to stop High-Danger Chances take a bit of a beating. The killers have been his dSv% or deviation from expected save percentage and GSAA or Goals Saved Above Average.
Many thanks to Corsica.hockey
There was a big (and expected) regression after 2014, a bounce back in ’15-16 that was decent but not great then last year which… well we all know what happened last year.
With a great 2 games to begin this season there’s definitely hope that Varly can return to his blockbuster performance of 4 seasons ago but more than just injuries and poor play in front of him have contributed to disappointing numbers in the past few years. By and large he’s been an average or worse goaltender in his career, and there isn’t much to indicate that he will be more than that this year.
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Thanks fellows. What say you dear reader? Is Varly really the talent we’ve always seen just oppressed by poor players and systems in front of him? Or is he just an ok goalie that can play amazing every once in a while?