Another season has come and gone for the Colorado Avalanche, and in part three of our season review, we will survey the goaltenders that played for Colorado this year, as well as Colorado’s head coach Jared Bednar. As Tampa Bay and Dallas battle it out in the race for the Stanley Cup, the Avs will be no doubt be making off-season adjustments to their roster and play style, and we’re taking a close look at the netminders who were strongholds for this Colorado team over the course of the 2019–20 season, as well as those who appeared in as few as two games.
Let us start by taking a look at the man responsible for much of this Colorado Avalanche team’s recent success.
In his fourth season as the Colorado Avalanche’s head coach, Bednar led an injury laden team into the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite Colorado’s ultimate loss to the Stars, the team overcame a 3–1 deficit and pushed the series to a seventh game despite numerous player injuries and injuries to both their first and second-string goaltenders, Philip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Under Bednar, the team overcame player injuries in both the regular season and postseason, demonstrating astute coaching decisions with respect to line changes, as well as a team depth that is largely attributable to previous smart trades and acquisitions made under Bednar’s watch. The trade for Nazem Kadri prior to the 2019–20 season, for example, proved invaluable when Kadri scored 11 points in 8 post-season games with the Avalanche, adding depth down their middle and bringing energy and grit to the team’s second line.
Although not chosen as one of the three finalists, Bednar finished fifth in voting for the Jack Adams Award, given yearly to the NHL’s top coach. The Avalanche finished the regular season with 92 points (42-20-8), only two behind the St. Louis Blues, who led the Central Division with 94 points. Bednar’s ability to recognize the needs of his team and address them with in-game changes, AHL call-ups, his insights regarding new player acquisitions, accompanied by his expertise in integrating the skills of newly acquired players such as Andre Burakovsky, became increasingly instrumental as Colorado’s injuries began to pile up. Bednar juggled lines throughout the season as one top player or another succumbed to injury, and he ensured that players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Burakovsky were set up for success whenever they were on the ice. He additionally altered Colorado’s playing style after Grubauer’s initial injury, recognizing the need to emphasize team defense with a less experienced net-minder between the pipes.
Nothing tests a coach’s competency like repeated injuries, and if the Avalanche can make it into the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs with as many missing players as they did, a healthy roster under Jared Bednar could prove a very dangerous thing.
The Avalanche’s starting netminder for most of the year, Grubauer finished the regular season with an 18-12-4 record, a GAA of 2.63 and a .916 save percentage. In the postseason, he started seven games before suffering a lower-body injury and finished with a 1.87 GAA and a .922 save percentage. While he certainly made excellent saves in key game moments, his SV% sits at twenty-fourth in the League and multiple lower-body injuries kept him from being a constant on-ice presence for his team. On the other hand, Grubauer was not the only Avalanche player who missed ice time due to injury, and playing with a healthy team would no doubt have impacted his performance.
Per Ryan S. Clark of The Athletic, Bednar had said that at the time the Avalanche were eliminated from the playoffs, Grubauer was still “a week or weeks” away from returning, which is something to keep in mind as Colorado heads into its off-season training camp. However, despite rumors that the Avalanche are looking to acquire a goaltender during the offseason, Coach Bednar has expressed confidence in Grubauer’s ability to succeed next season.
During the regular season, Pavel Francouz started only six fewer games than starting netminder Philipp Grubauer. He was announced as Colorado’s backup goaltender for the season in July of 2019, and proceeded to put up a .923 save percentage and a GAA of 2.41. The team won 21 of the 30 games he started, and Francouz proved an effective backup to Grubauer during the extent of his injuries.
In the playoffs, Francouz’s performance was less satisfactory than it was in the regular season, with a save percentage of only .892 and a 3.23 GAA. In game one of the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs against the Dallas Stars, the Czech goaltender suffered an otherwise-unspecified head injury and did not appear in any subsequent games. Per Coach Bednar, “neither of those injuries [Grubauer’s and Francouz’] are injuries you have to worry about. Train hard in the summer and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” While Bednar appears confident in the Grubauer/Francouz pairing, and while Francouz certainly rose to the occasion in the regular 2019–20 regular season, his playoff performance earns him a B grade.
The Avalanche signed Francouz to a two-year contract extension in February of 2020, and with perhaps an exception given to this season’s playoffs, he has been a vital part of the Colorado Avalanche’s success, stepping up in Grubauer’s absence when needed and making invaluable saves.
The Avalanche acquired Hutchinson in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of this year. He appeared in fifteen games with the Maple Leafs and four with the Toronto Marlies, their American Hockey league Affiliate, during the 2019–20 season before being traded to the Avalanche. In his NHL career prior to joining Colorado, the Ontario native posted a 50-52-14 record, with a .905 save percentage and 2.81 GAA.
Hutchinson made his NHL playoff debut and first on-ice playoff appearance for Colorado after backup goaltender Pavel Francouz suffered a head injury in Game 1 of the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. He started the following four games, and finished with a .910 SV% and a 2.75 GAA. Though not given the opportunity to play many games, Hutchinson aided his team significantly after the loss of their top two goaltenders and became only the seventh NHL goalie ever to win his first two playoff wins back-to-back while his team faced elimination.
One of many backup goalies who rose to the occasion in this year’s postseason, Hutchinson certainly proved his worth in this playoff appearance. Moreover, the team seems to like his hard-working and optimistic attitude, as well as having a goaltender between the pipes who players respect and who inspires confidence is a major component of good team chemistry and performance.
Bibeau played two games this season with the Colorado Avalanche. His GAA was 3.27 and his SV% was lower than all other four Colorado goaltenders at .881. Bibeau was drafted 172 overall in 2013 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been playing with the Colorado Eagles since just before the 2018–19 season. He started his first game with the Avalanche in a 5-4 OT win against the Vancouver Canucks in November of 2019. He was called up due to injuries to both Grubauer and Francouz then returned to the Colorado Eagles shortly after.
Like Bibeau, Werner played only two games with the Avalanche in the 2019–20 season. He posted a GAA of 3.42 and a .914 SV%. In his NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets, Werner stopped 40 of 40 shots after started Pavel Francouz suffered an injury only 32 seconds into the game. However, when the Avalanche started Werner two days later in a game against Edmonton, the 22-year old netminder gave up five of eighteen shots on goal, posting a save percentage of only .722. A forty-shot shutout nonetheless gives him the edge over Bibeau, particularly since he managed it in his first ever NHL appearance.