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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Colorado Avalanche

There's always pressure to repeat as champions in the NHL, but the Colorado Avalanche will have to do it with a shakeup in the crease.
Colorado Avalanche

Welcome back to another edition of The THN Hot Seat, a daily series of THN.com columns in which we identify one member of every NHL team who will deal with big-time pressure in the upcoming season. The Hot Seat candidate may be an NHL player, coach, GM, or franchise owner. In today’s file, we’re examining the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

AVALANCHE HOT SEAT: ALEXANDAR GEORGIEV, GOALTENDER

WHY: After the incredible season they had in 2021-22, it’s hard to say many members of the Avs will be under the gun. Certainly, there’s pressure to try and be the next team to win back-to-back Cups, but their stunning mauling of the rest of the league last year has given them some room to breathe. They may not be quite as good this coming season, especially if unrestricted free agent Nazem Kadri moves on. But team architect Joe Sakic still has an astonishing amount of young talent just coming into their own. The sky can be the limit for them again.

That said, the one area of prominence that has changed is their netminding, with last season’s starter Darcy Kuemper leaving as a UFA to sign a lucrative deal in Washington. Thirty-two-year-old backup Pavel Francouz remains with the team, but he’s unlikely to be given the No. 1 role. That job is going to former New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev, who at age 26 has been heavily invested in by Colorado; they dealt two draft picks to the Rangers to acquire Georgiev’s negotiating rights, and they gifted him with a three-year, $10.2-million contract. But here’s the issue: Georgiev has played only 129 regular-season NHL games, and he hasn’t exactly thrived: in 21 games last season, he posted an unspectacular 2.92 Goals-Against Average and .898 Save Percentage.

Georgiev did perform better in two playoff appearances last spring, with a 2.04 G.A.A. and .935 SP, but again, this is a small sample size. The most he’s played in a single season is 34 games, which was back in 2019-20. Colorado will be asking for many more games than that, and while Georgiev will have what will likely be the NHL’s top offense in support of him, he still has to deliver an above-average job night-in-and-night-out. Kuemper did as much, for the most part, and the rest is championship history.

If Georgiev falters, Francouz isn’t going to be the remedy. He too has played a maximum of 34 games just once in his three NHL seasons, and he’s got only 57 regular-season games under his belt. He’s also been banged up over the years, and at his age, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he couldn’t stay healthy if placed in the starter’s role. They may be forced to turn to journeyman Jonas Johansson, who is currently third on Colorado’s depth chart for goalies. If that sounds worrisome for Avs fans, that’s because it is.

As we’ve noted before, it’s not as if the Avalanche can go out and trade for a quality goaltender mid-season. Most teams are employing true tandems in goal, and as such, few are willing to trade even their No. 2 goalie. And the seeming epidemic of injuries to all sorts of players, including goalies, will keep GMs from making impact goalies available.

So, as you can see, the Georgiev investment is a significant gamble from Avs brass. Colorado has a phenomenal mix of youngsters and veterans at forward and on defense, but their goaltending is the ‘X’ factor, and Georgiev will be front and center in the spotlight. The way he reacts to the increase in responsibility could well be the difference between the Avalanche steamrolling opponents and struggling to find consistency between the pipes.

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