I usually don’t like to write rip-job columns about goaltenders. To me, it’s the hardest position to play in all of sports and there are so many variables as to why goals are scored in hockey. So, while I’m not here to take a bunch of cheap shots on Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier, I am going to state this:

It’s time for Jared Bednar to start playing his No. 1 guy, Semyon Varlamov, a lot more and let Bernier become more of what a backup goalie should be, which is not seen and heard from very often.

Look, it wasn’t all Bernier’s fault in the Avalanche’s latest loss, 7-2 to Dallas at a sparsely-populated Pepsi Center Sunday night. There were bad plays by teammates before every one of the four goals against him. Trouble is, he only had to face nine shots on net in the 27:52 he played before being yanked from the game in favor of Varly.

Just a bad night, one of those things, with no help from his teammates? Yeah, OK, but…Bernier’s saves percentage on the season now stands at .891, which places him 47th among the 50 goalies who have played games in the NHL this season. His goals-against average is 3.24. Weren’t we supposed to get a nice upgrade over Calvin Pickard as the backup this year, when the Avs made the decision to sign him to a one-year, $2.5 million free-agent contract?

True, Bernier has played some good games for the Avs this year, including a shutout over these same Stars just 11 days ago. But the numbers are the numbers, and right now Bernier’s larger sample size isn’t cutting it.

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But this column really isn’t about Bernier so much as it is about Varlamov. As in: It’s time to stop being so cautious with him and start giving him the kind of workload that befits a No. 1 goalie making $5.9 million a season. Entering Sunday, Varlamov had started 14 games this season and Bernier 10.

Now, granted: Varlamov was sick for a week and missed at least two starts out of that probably.

While Varlamov carried just a .906 saves percentage into the contest, with a 3.06 GAA, those numbers are heavily skewed by one game that got away from everyone (a 7-0 loss in Vegas) and a five-goal allowance at Nashville Nov. 18. Overall, Varly has been pretty strong. Not great, not awesome, but pretty strong.

If the Avs’ reasoning for not playing Varlamov a lot so far has been, “well, we don’t want to risk injury so fast after off-season hip/groin surgery”, it’s time to let that go. Either he’s fully recovered from the surgery or he isn’t, and he sure looks healthy and limber enough to my eyes at least.

I asked Bednar whether it is, in fact, time to increase Varlamov’s workload, even with several back-to-back games coming up, and he got a little defensive about it.

“When he’s healthy, he’s on schedule to play his 55 games,” Bednar said. “Exactly what we planned. We’re not going to start ramping him up and playing him every night when the plan is 55. We said before the year, he’ll get more games if he earns them. We evaluate that on a weekly basis, basically.”

OK, fair enough. But my argument is that Varlamov should play more than 55 games. Especially, now that Rome is starting to burn a little around here again. I just don’t think Bednar and the Avs have the luxury of just playing their No. 2 goalie one out of every three games. One out of four or five should be the ratio I think, but, hey, that’s just one man’s opinion.

If the Avs truly care about making the playoffs, they need to lean on Varly a little more than they’ve done so far. Fine, I’ll accept the argument that, early on, it didn’t make a lot of sense to play him every night, especially after the surgery. You wanted to see how he responded first.

He looks healthier than he has in a long time to me, though, and my argument is the future, not the past. The Avs have not been an overworked team to this point; Their 25 games is tied with San Jose for fewest in the Western Conference. Varlamov should not be feeling tired/overworked at all right now.

Let him play the majority of the games from here on in. He’s the top guy, making the big bucks and the Avs are in a critical point of the season. You get the feeling that things could go real bad here again real soon if someone doesn’t step up and put a stop to it. Often, that job is up to the goalie.

So let him do his job.

Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling “Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports’ Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era” and “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, which was published in October, 2016.

  • Jon E.

    I definitely agree.

  • Max Power

    bang on in this assessment. let Varly be Varly and steal games. especially on a heavy homestand he really shoulda been the starter tonite and give Bernier the Sabres…. I mean really you’re giving Varly the night off against a divisional opponent so he can be his best for the gawd awful Sabres? get real. My faith in Bednar is starting to weaken w this questionable decisions. first its the lack of ability to handle any sorta trap team. I mean for petes sake I know its not an easy system to win out every time, but how is it he looks dumbfounded to overcome teams that employ this style. most glaring is Barberio still in the freakin lineup when he’s sat other players for far less then the crap Barberio continuously demonstrates. just look at that awful pass up the boards for the second goal against. I swear Barbs is getting the same treatment Beachemin got last year in playing him just cause he’s a vet. if a player is costing you games, he needs to sit and watch a game or two or all season.

    • Adrian Dater

      I think that’s a good point. Are you really saving Varly for a game against Buffalo at home? I hadn’t thought of that, so plus-1 here

  • Av-a-dabba-doo

    Got to agree. We really needed this one to reverse the sinking feeling we’re all trying not to feel. Why wouldn’t you go with your #1 in net and hope he displays the kind of excellence there he so often has? And doesn’t the fact that your playing an intra-divisional opponent give you even more reason to do so?

  • Pixelrebirth

    “If the Avs truly care about making the playoffs, ” …. do they care? or are they focused on development of their young players and focusing on keeping Varly healthy in a season we may be better off NOT making the playoffs?

    I think development is 100% key and if that is the focus, your probably not making the playoffs anyway… especially when you have scrubbs on the team like Neato giving out breakaways for free…?

    This team is not a playoff team, I do not want to see them make the playoffs if it means sacrificing the future. Id like to see this team get worse in fact by the end of the year by getting Comeau out for a pick and who knows, maybe someone like Sods for a pick —

    Keep Varly healthy and competitive. Bernie layed a fat egg, sure.. and he got pulled. You dont change course on a long term plan based on a couple games.

    The team completely hung Bernie out to dry— THAT is what needs development. That is where we will continue to learn from our mistakes. That is what this season is about.

    • Charlie Anderson

      I agree with you here Pixlrebirth, except only giving up 9 shots in almost half the game doesn’t qualify as “hanging Bernie out to dry”, kind of the other way around. He was terrible, and I’m generally in his corner, and not just cuz I love his helmet.

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