Kiszla: Are slim shoulders of goalie Alexandar Georgiev sturdy enough to support dreams of Avalanche dynasty?
Winning the Stanley Cup was easy. For their next big trick, the Avs will set up Jenga blocks on the ice, then see how many pieces of a championship puzzle they dare remove without it all crashing down at their skates.
At the center of it all, with the dreams of a hockey dynasty balancing precariously on his slim, unproven shoulders, is new goalie Alexandar Georgiev.
“The team is unreal. They just won the Cup,” Georgiev said Tuesday. “They have the same goal for the next few years … (It’s) a chance I’ve always dreamed about.”
With NHL free agency looming, after already saying buh-bye to championship goalie Darcy Kuemper, the Avs might also lose playoff-hero Nazem Kadri, rugged defenseman Josh Manson and forward Andre Burakovsky.
“We’re obvious in a salary-cap world and … teams like going after winners,” Joe Sakic said.
Sakic celebrated the championship by taking one step back from the day-to-day responsibility of retooling the Colorado roster and wisely kicked himself upstairs with a spiffy new title: president of hockey operations.
It takes 16 tough victories to win the Cup.
The number of playoff games won by Georgiev: zero.
No pressure, young man. We can call you Georgi, right?
“I’ve been called Georgi the last few years. I’m pretty comfortable with that,” Georgiev said during a video conference from Finland, where he likes to spend his summer.
The Avalanche front office, with Sakic working alongside Chris MacFarland, promoted this week to general manager, has shown a uncommon amount of faith in Georgiev.
Colorado shipped three draft picks to acquire a 26-year-old backup goalie from the New York Rangers, then immediately rewarded Georgiev with a three-year contract worth an average of $3.4 million per year.
Rather than fret, it might be easier to trust the process. During the past seven years, Sakic has time and again fleeced rival general managers to build a championship roster.
But this deal feels like the boldest wager Sakic has ever made. It’s a gamble, no doubt. I’d wager to say it might be the biggest risk we’ve seen with a championship team in Colorado since Mike Shanahan turned over the keys of the Broncos offense to a young, unproven quarterback named Brian Griese in 1999.
How did that turn out?
OK, the football gods conspired against Griese. Supported by Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, two of the top 10 players in the league, it appears Georgiev has been put in a much better position to not only succeed, but thrive.
But he arrives in Colorado with the emotional baggage of a dented ego. As the understudy to Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin in New York, Georgiev was so uncomfortable and inconsistent in his role that he asked Rangers general manager Chris Drury to get him out of the Big Apple.
“I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play games,” Georgiev said. “The Stanley Cup champions believe in you, and believe you are the guy. That’s all I ever wanted. It’s awesome to hear this team has confidence in me. I’m working hard to prove them right.”
The quick closure of this trade, as well as Sakic’s long relationship with Drury, a former teammate, suggests that if the Avs weren’t already planning a move toward Georgiev during the Stanley Cup Final, Sakic certainly anticipated Kuemper was riding a fire truck in the victory parade straight out of Denver.
Georgiev does have 58 NHL regular-season victories and a respectable .908 save percentage on his resume. But hockey analytics are not so kind to him, especially during the past two seasons, when his number of quality starts dipped below 50% and charting of scores against him in low-danger situations revealed a tendency to surrender soft goals.
If Georgiev can give the Avs a capable replacement for Kuemper, who proved this team can win a championship without a truly elite goaltender, it will be another steal of a deal by Sakic.
But should Georgiev prove unworthy of serving as a legit No. 1 between the pipes?
Well, his $3.4 million salary will be regarded as a poor investment. And Sakic, who voluntarily took a step back from day-to-day G.M. duties just as a tsunami of unrestricted free agents guaranteed a serious roster shake-up, can go fishing, while knuckleheads like me blame MacFarland.
“I don’t know if I’m going fishing,” said Sakic, laughing.
Laughter comes easy to Super Joe, as it should. After 21 long years, he brought the Cup back to Colorado.
It’s MacFarland that has to figure out how to keep the Jenga blocks from crashing.