Varlamov had two up-and-down seasons with the Avs. Last year, his GAA was a bloated 3.02 for a team that finished 15th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference. But this year, he looks confident and comfortable in the net, and surely took great pleasure in waxing his former mates last week en route to sharing player-of-the-week honors.
Colorado is an exciting offensive team – so deep that rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon is anchoring the third line for now – but the real difference between then and now is how well they are playing defensively under new coach Patrick Roy, who was my preseason choice as coach of the year.
The Avs are off to their best start since 1994-95, or their last year in Quebec, and Varlamov is making a strong case to be Russia’s starting goaltender in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, if he keeps this up. Arguably, no player will face more pressure or scrutiny than the starting goaltender on the home team for a country desperate to win.
Varlamov is 25, the same age as Bernier.
Dubnyk, meanwhile, is 27 and on the final year of his contract. The fact that the Oilers put in a serious bid for Schneider at last year’s draft indicates that even they didn’t know what to make of Dubnyk – and if he could ultimately handle the starter’s role. On the plus side, Dubnyk is a popular and stand-up teammate, so the Oiler players want to see him succeed. But he needs to start playing the way Bernier and Varlamov are; otherwise, the Oilers may be scouring the European leagues and the rosters of NHL teams, trying to figure out which backup has the pedigree and ability to become a No. 1.
Nowadays, a goalie often needs to move at least once in his career before he gets a chance to be the undisputed starter. Half the No. 1s in the league meet that standard, including Tuukka Rask (Boston), Kari Lehtonen (Dallas), Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus), Antti Niemi (San Jose). Even Luongo went from the New York Islanders to the Florida Panthers before settling in as the Vancouver Canucks’ No. 1 goalie. Nobody has to remind Leaf fans of what an unremarkable return they got for Rask (Andrew Raycroft, out of the league since the 2011-12 season).
The point is, goalie deals can be notoriously one-sided because if the player coming in falters in any meaningful way, and a GM gave up a lot to get an untried prospect, then that can be a firing offence. Many were up in arms (me included), when the Avs gave up so much to land Varlamov. Only now is it looking like an astute deal.
MORE GOALIE GAB: On Sunday, L.A. got a shutout from Scrivens who has yet to give up a goal this season in one start and one relief appearance. It was a great week for nominal backups. Another ex-Leaf, Jonas Gustavsson started in place of the injured Jimmy Howard and beat the Boston Bruins in a Monday matinee. In Winnipeg, Al Montoya pitched a shutout after Ondjec Pavelec got his first night off of the season in the victory over the winless New Jersey Devils. And Colorado is 5-0, thanks in part to a 39-save shutout by J.S. Giguere over the Bruins this past Thursday, the 37th of his career. Three of the four – Scrivens, Gustavsson and Giguere, have all been back-ups in Toronto within the past three years.