Dater’s Avalanche Mailbag: Is Varlamov the long-term goalie anymore?

Welcome to the latest installment of an Avs Mailbag. Thanks for your questions, and if you want to send me anything to address in future Mailbags, the email address is Dater@bsndenver.com. OK, let's get right to it:

From Skyler, we have: "Hey, I know it’s a bit out right now, but what do you think the Avs’ plan is in net after Varly? Do you think Martin will be ready by time Varly’s contract is up? Thanks!"

I've gotten a few worried fans asking about Varly this week, and while I think it's fair to be concerned with his play right now, I don't think it's panic time and I believe he'll get on a roll at some point soon. I hope, for his sake, I'm not jinxing him by saying that, but I just think he has too much talent to keep having his saves percentage hover around the current .903 clip.

It's true, Varly's contract, with a $5.9 million cap hit, is up after next season. He can be an unrestricted free agent after that. Typically, goalies haven't cashed in too well in the UFA market in recent years, though Ryan Miller in Vancouver was an exception. Usually, top goalies are re-signed to extensions before they can leave as a UFA. It's too soon to start worrying about Varlamov's contract status, though, either way. My strong guess is he will go into next season as a member of this team still, and how well he plays likely will dictate if he gets that extension offer from the Avs or not. If he has a sensational rest of this season, he'd get the extension offer earlier than that.

But there's no question that Varly has to start putting up better numbers. He can't keep giving up three-four goals every night like he has mostly lately. Granted, not all the goals have been his "fault." But, last time I checked, goalies are paid to make the tough saves too, not just the easy saves. It seems like Varly has been a bit shaky on shots to the glove-hand side, an area of his game he's always worked at harder than others. He's not a good puck-handling goalie, so he freezes a lot of pucks, which puts extra pressure on a team that isn't very good on faceoffs right now.

Varly works really hard, though. He takes his job seriously. In fact, maybe he's a little too serious about things. He is a nice guy, a friendly guy, but he doesn't laugh a lot it seems. Maybe he does in private, with friends and family, but he's always very dry and...serious...around us press folk. Sometimes, I'd like to see Varly just do something wild and crazy, even if that is getting really mad or something. Otherwise, he's just a very monotone guy, but some of that probably has to do with the language barrier, though his English is 100 miles head of where it was when he got to Denver.

As for Spencer Martin, he had a real hot streak a while ago, but his numbers have cooled off a bit. As of Wednesday, his saves percentage in San Antonio was only .901. I watched him play in the Rookie Showcase before the season in San Jose, as the only traveling Denver media member not on the team payroll, and did a story on him. He struggled mightily there, and time is starting to get short on his career, probably, as a "hot prospect." But, man, goalies are weird creatures. They can just come out of nowhere at almost any age, it seems, and light the world on fire. Then, you never hear from them again. So, Martin still has time to get his career going. But, next year will be the fifth year since being drafted by the Avs (63rd overall, 2013). Time is starting to become something of a factor with him probably.

From Tyler:  Hi Adrian, What are your thoughts on the Yakupov roller-coaster? Thank you for taking the time to read my question.

Shoot, I wish I felt more optimistic for Yak, because, like other media people who have covered him and people in general who have been around him, he's a very nice person who just wants to have fun and succeed. But it's just...there are just these moments where he seems lost out there. I'm just being a pop psychologist here, but I just have to wonder if the North American style of game just isn't, and never has been, his cup of tea. This is a league where coaches watch film of your every move, 24/7. who are armed with reams of data, and who simply don't tolerate a "one-way game" anymore, unless you can score 30 goals. Yak is a good forechecker, I've noticed. But when the puck is in the neutral and defensive zones, he just doesn't seem to grasp the art of tight checking. Offensively, he's got great talent. But, here's the problem: He doesn't get the puck enough. He doesn't go get it enough and he doesn't get open enough for teammates to easily spot him.

That said, he does have seven goals in 26 games. That's four more goals than he had in 40 games last season. His Corsi at even strength is 54.1. He's been a good guy in the dressing room, and hasn't whined publicly about being a healthy scratch of late. But here he is again, a healthy scratch. After such a promising start, Yak is the forgotten man again. The bad stuff is happening again. I hope he can get back to great times again, like in this classic Yak interview (and whoever said this was a "horrible" interview who posted this video, that's dead wrong. It's an awesome interview:


From Dennis in Seattle: Hey Dater - So glad you're covering the AVS again - it's great to have you back! So can you please enlighten me on why EJ is constantly sliding on the ice instead of staying on his skates - more that once in the last couple of games he's slid completely out of the play. And I have no idea what he was trying to do on the Penguins goal - flopping around backwards. Don't get me wrong I like him as a player - but his sliding just drives me nuts! 

Thanks for welcoming me back, along with the rest of the people reading this. People don't know the real story of what went down when I left the Denver Post three years ago. Like, there is tons left out from what you probably heard. But I'm not going to bore anyone with those details, and, while I used to have the exact opposite belief in what I'm about to say, I do now firmly believe it: Things happen for a reason. I got off track as a person for a while, and I believe the bad karma I put out there in that time period came back to me. As some of you might have heard on our podcasts now on BSN, I've been heavily into things like Buddhism and just trying to be the nice guy I thought I once was, but lost somewhere along the way. I thought I had everything once, but the truth is I had nothing in my soul. I was empty. I was selfish and I hated the guy I was becoming. That started manifesting itself in many ways. I could be the most charming guy you'd ever meet, but inside I felt like a fraud. I had a job I always wanted, but I became arrogant and entitled. If you read the great Mitch Albom's book, "Tuesdays with Morrie", I identified with the pre-Morrie Albom. I remember crying the night I read it, all in one night, in a Phoenix hotel room, after it came out. I remember saying to myself, "That's me. But I don't know what I need to do to write my own happy story."
You know what really saved me? Aside from my wife, Heidi, and some wonderful friends and family, it was working as a substitute teacher for a good while, in a financially disadvantaged school district here in Denver. I went from covering "big-time" sports to shoveling snow in an elementary school parking lot as a sub just three months later. I worked almost every day with kids, most of whom have/had it a lot tougher than I ever did. Yeah, I got run over a lot and God help some of those poor kids that I had to teach math to on occasion, but I really got involved with many of them and I was brought out of my entitled sports media bubble and back into the real world.
I wouldn't trade those times for anything now. I had a second-grade boy tell me one day, as I walked him to the bathroom, that he wanted to kill himself. His mother abandoned the family, and this obviously had a profound effect on him. I was in my own world of confusion and hurt at that same moment. I could tell he was a good, smart kid and I looked him in the eye and said, "I've been there, but I'm here to tell you: it'll get better. I can tell you're a smart kid and this will all be just a distant memory some day, this strife you're in." I'm not sure I actually believed it at that moment, because I was thinking my world was pretty much over myself.
I wound up giving the boy a copy of a book I wrote and signed it over to him. I think I said, "Just keep reaching for the stars."
His eyes lit up. He read the book in a couple days. When I saw him a short time later, he ran up to me and jumped in my arms. THAT moment is something I will never, ever forget. Today, he's doing much better, in school and in life. I might have helped him, but he also helped me. The old me started to return at that very moment, the one who used to know, but forgot, that it's better to give than receive. And while I still have a gazillion faults and moods and everything else that makes us human, I feel like I'm on a better path again finally. So, why am I still trying to do this hockey-writing thing, back in the media bubble again? Well, good question. I hope the answer becomes: because that's always what I was best at, professionally, and now, maybe, I can come at all this stuff with a better angle. I hope, anyway. And, yes, I'm still going to try and stay involved in the school system I was involved in, which is the Mapleton District.
So, about your question? EJ slides a lot because he's been caught in a lot of odd-man rush situations, the last guy back. I know he overslides now and again, but he's also blocked a lot of shots and pass attempts with that move. And, c'mon, EJ has been a warrior all year long. I think he deserves a trip to Tampa for the NHL All-Star Game. He's been that good.
From Tom Kowatch: Hey AD, Why have the Avs lacked meanness the last few years? Other teams take liberties with the Avs goalies on a regular basis and with the Avs young guys. Couple games ago Jamie McGinn got in Varly's face and the goalie had to get feisty with him only then did Z do anything. See this all the time opposing teams get in late wacks, or shower the goalies and the team just mopes away from it. Or guys like Kerfoot get pounded all game and no one sticks up for em. Avs have been this way for years even with Cody, the team just doesn't seem to stand up for each other. I get their not a overly physical team like say Winnipeg but they can at least not let other teams walk all over then. 
It's a fair question, but the basic answer is: Because the NHL has mostly phased out ALL of the tough guys, the enforcers, the guys whose job it was to be a policeman on the ice, a deterrent. I agree, the Avs take too many big hits from bigger teams. Jared Bednar has spoken a bit about how his team, particularly at forward, is a bit on on the smallish side. And I think the Avs have plans to look for bigger forwards as time goes by. But, bigger isn't always better. For too long, the Avs invested in big guys who couldn't play (I could list them, but remember, I'm not a mean guy as much anymore!). So, the challenge is to find guys who can take the big hit, but also play good hockey. Kerfoot is going to be an excellent player in this league, I definitely believe. But, yeah, the kid gets his ass kicked almost every night, and there is nobody to really drop the gloves and serve notice that it won't be tolerated any longer. Yet, Kerfoot isn't taking the abuse from goons, who have to answer to the Avs' own goon. He's just taking hits from bigger guys. Many teams, such as Winnipeg and L.A. and Nashville, have placed a bigger premium on size. And, yeah, I think the Avs have had matchup problems against those teams. But the answer isn't: "Let's go out and get us a tough guy" anymore. Those days are gone.

From Bradley Hobart:

Hey Dater, So, I have a feeling that I am not the only one asking this, but what exactly is the reasoning behind going with only 11 forwards and 7 defensemen? Is it the flexibility that it allows a coach to reward players doing well, or to test out different pairings and line combinations? If so, sometimes, I think it works, but definitely not always...
In addition, do you agree or disagree with this form of lineup?
I think I like this kind of lineup - for now.
I like having a little more ammunition defensively, especially if one guy is having a bad night. But what about the forward having a bad night, and there's no replacement? Well, that's why I think I only like this, for now. I think the Avs are a little better when they can give guys like EJ and Barrie just a bit more rest, using that seventh D-man, than, say, giving Nathan MacKinnon one more minute of rest. First off, I think MacK thrives on more ice time, so overplaying him isn't a worry. If anything, he's been underplayed too much the last couple of years, especially when Matt Duchene was here.
That said, I don't want to just roll out 7 D if that essentially only makes you a three-line team. The Avs have struggled to score goals of late, so cutting down one of the forwards is a tough way to remedy that. On the other hand, one or two fewer minutes for a guy like Sven Andrighetto at the expense of a fresh D-man, I don't think, is a big sacrifice right now.

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