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Avs bring in new goaltending tandem

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Looking to fill a gaping hole in its crease, the Colorado Avalanche on Friday signed free-agent goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere as its new tandem to replace Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott.

"We feel like we've addressed our goaltending position in total," general manager Greg Sherman said. "We certainly feel we've addressed our priority at the goaltending position."

It certainly was a huge problem last season when the Avalanche finished 29th in the NHL standings while goalies Craig Anderson, Budaj and Elliott combined for a league-worst 3.45 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.

The Avalanche had to pay a hefty price to acquire Varlamov's rights from Washington. Colorado sent the Capitals a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013 before signing the restricted free agent to a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Physically gifted at 6-feet-2 and 209 pounds, the 23-year-old Varlamov has posted a 30-13-12 record in 59 career games in three NHL seasons with four shutouts, a 2.39 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He's gone 10-9 in 19 career playoff games with two shutouts, a 2.49 average and .915 save percentage.

A first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Capitals in the 2006 draft, Varlamov played in 27 games last year and went 11-9-5 with two shutouts, a 2.23 average and a .924 save percentage.

But he missed most of the first two months of the season with a groin injury and most of March with a knee injury that required minor surgery. His absence opened the door in Washington for Michal Neuvirth, who set a franchise record for a rookie goalie with 27 wins.

There also had been talk that Varlamov might sign with a Kontinental Hockey League team in his native Russia for this coming season. A restricted free agent, he could have been tendered an offer sheet, though the Capitals could have matched it or let him go in exchange for compensatory draft picks.

"He fits our idea of what we're looking to do and how we're building this franchise," Sherman said. "We feel that at 23 years of age he's ready for the next step. We believe that he can be the player to fit the criteria of starting goalie and for being the backbone of our net.

"Clearly, given the transaction, we believe in the type of player that this goalie is going to be. There is a belief that this player is going to be the guy that can carry the load for us and be the type of goalie that this organization needs to move forward. We're excited to have this type of player join our organization and we look forward to many years with him in the net.

"I had a short conversation with him and he knows the situation here. He knows our roster and he's excited for the opportunity, for sure. He's excited to come to Colorado."

Apparently, so is Giguere, a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner whom Sherman said will be fine with his role as a backup and veteran presence.

"Jiggy," 34, signed a two-year contract worth $1.25 million per season.

"He is a veteran; he's been there," Sherman said. "He's a proven winner and a first-class individual from what we have heard from our hockey staff in terms of the type of person that J.S. is. We want to put Semyon in an environment where he'll have the most chance to succeed. I think having a calm, veteran presence in J.S. Giguere fits that bill."

Giguere spent eight-plus seasons with Anaheim and backstopped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup Finals. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 when the Ducks lost to New Jersey in seven games, and he led the Ducks to the only Cup in franchise history four years later.

The Montreal native was traded to Toronto in January 2010, and this past season with the Maple Leafs posted an 11-11-4 record in 33 games with a 2.87 average and .900 save percentage while battling groin problems. Giguere has played in 525 career NHL games with a 231-195-67 record, 34 shutouts, a 2.53 average and .913 save percentage.

"I spoke to him early this afternoon and he's just thrilled to be on board and to be in this environment and to embrace that (backup) role," Sherman said. "I think when you look at our overall roster, we have a young makeup as a hockey club. J.S. is a person in his mid-30s and can provide some leadership off the ice and help some of our young players along.

"In our situation we obviously wanted to have a scenario where there was a backup that has a track record in the NHL and can help through some of the inevitable bumps that occur throughout the long season."

The Avalanche signed two other free agents Friday -- defenseman Jan Hejda and forward Chuck Kobasew.

"We feel like we've addressed our goaltending position in total. We certainly feel we've addressed our priority at the goaltending position."
-- Avalanche GM Greg Sherman

Hejda, a 6-3, 237-pounder, was given a four-year, $13 million contract. Kobasew signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal.

Hejda, 33, had 5 goals and 15 assists in 77 games with Columbus last season, his fourth with the Blue Jackets. He has 12 goals and 64 assists in 341 career NHL games with Edmonton and the Blue Jackets.

Kobasew, 29, had 9 goals and 7 assists in 63 games with Minnesota. He has 96 goals and 89 assists in 473 career games with Calgary, Boston and the Wild.

The Avalanche elected not to re-sign left wing Tomas Fleischmann, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract with Florida. Fleischmann had 8 goals and 13 assists in 22 games following his Nov. 30, 2010 acquisition from Washington in exchange for defenseman Scott Hannan, but he missed the final 36 games after being diagnosed with a blood clot in each of his lungs.

"Given the risks associated with his health, we made a decision to move on," Sherman said of Fleischmann, who signed a four-year deal with Florida. "We wish him all the best."

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