He has a contract for next season, so technically Calvin Pickard is not “playing for his job” as the Colorado Avalanche plays out the string on the abysmal 2016-17 season. He’ll make one million dollars next season, guaranteed, from some NHL team.
Despite a lot of losing in his time as an Av, despite a job more stressful than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, Pickard wants to stay with this team. It’s the only organization he’s ever known in the NHL, the one that has developed him since selecting him way back in the 2010 draft as a 17-year-old.
“I’ve had a chance to play a lot of games this year and I plan to play the majority of them going forward as long as I keep playing well,” said Pickard, after winning his second straight start, 3-2 over the New Jersey Devils Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. “It’s definitely my audition.”
The Avs, however, have a decision to make by 3 p.m. MST on June 17: They will have to choose between either Pickard or injured veteran Semyon Varlamov as the one to protect from the Las Vegas Golden Knights for the NHL expansion draft June 21.
Poor performance through the final 16 games of the regular season would make it easier for Avs management to justify exposing the 24-year-old Pickard, and vice-versa. It figures to be an interesting and highly debatable decision for the Avs.
On paper, it would seem too much of a risk to expose the former Vezina Trophy finalist Varlamov, who still is relatively young (28) and has proven himself much more as an everyday goalie than Pickard. Losing an asset like him for nothing would arguably be one more step backward in the fight back to respectability as a franchise.
On the other hand, Varlamov carries a big cap hit ($5.9 million) and is coming off major surgery. His statistics before being shut down the rest of the season (6-17-0, 3.38 GAA, .898 SP) were horrendous. Since coming to the Avs in 2011 from Washington, Varlamov has won exactly zero playoff series for the team. Maybe Las Vegas taking Varlamov’s contract off their hands is the secret hope of Avs management, who knows.
Pickard, if he were to become exposed, might be just the kind of young, cheap goalie Vegas GM George McPhee (the man who traded Varlamov to Colorado, by the way) might want to fill out his first-year roster. Pickard, despite his 11-21-2 record entering Thursday, had a reasonably respectable .909 save percentage. Not great, no, but better than Varlamov’s and better than a few other goalies in the league.
Asked if he’s kidded around with Varlamov about who might be the protected one, Pickard laughed but said, “No, no, we don’t talk about that. We honestly haven’t seen each other that much lately. He’s been doing his rehab and stuff.”
Against the Devils, Pickard showed the kind of ability that gets you excited about his future at times, bailing out some of the usual spotty defense in front of him. Yet, he also did some things that make you question just how good he is or can become.
He allowed a big, juicy rebound just prior to Taylor Hall’s tying goal in the third period (though, Tyson Barrie’s blind, one-handed clearout attempt up the middle was the most damaging play) and he somehow allowed a Stefan Noesen goal from the short side from about a foot out for another tying Devils goal.
But he allowed nothing more, while his veteran counterpart in the Devils’ net, Cory Schneider, was beaten by Francois Beauchemin with 1:14 left for the deciding goal. Pickard finished with 25 saves, and he even recorded an assist on Colorado’s first goal, by Nathan MacKinnon in the second period.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said, after Tuesday’s win over Carolina, that he’d sat down recently with Pickard for some constructive criticism. One of the things Bednar stressed was not to put too much pressure on himself early in games. Bednar said he thought Pickard was lingering too long on some early, soft goals and to try and develop more of an amnesiac mind in those situations.
“It’s just about trying to make that next save,” Pickard admitted. “We’ve got to all just be positive. We’ve been working hard of late and playing our game. Obviously, we’re not going to get into the playoffs, but it’s definitely an audition for me to play against the best (the rest of the way) and play my game.”
Whether Pickard gets the chance to play a lot more games for the Avs is something we’ll have a better idea of on June 21.