Who Wore It Best: Number 1

There have been four players with jersey numbero uno in Colorado Avalanche history. All of them netminders, as it should be, including one of the team’s current goalies. All of them have a story to tell…

Craig Billington (Avalanche regular season #’s: 30-23-7, 2.61 GAA)

Mr. Billington arrived in Colorado in the late summer of ’96. In fact, he was a Waiver Draft pickup just before the regular season (from Florida) just after THEY signed him just before camp started. He’d previously been in Devils (drafted 23rd overall in ’84), Bruins, and Ottawa Sens jerseys. He also took a year off to play for Canada’s national team in 90-91. With the Avs, he stepped immediately into the backup goalie role behind Roy and played 23 (11-8-2) games his first season. His individual stats improved his second year in Denver even if his record didn’t (8-7-4). He flipped the script in 98-99 with worse individual numbers but a solid 11-8-1 record. His tenure ended when he was traded to the Capitols for future considerations in the summer of ’99. He had a few lack-luster seasons backing up Kolzig and called it a career in January of 2003.

David Aebischer (89-58-14, 2.35)

Drafted 161st overall by Colorado in 1997, David immediately came over from his native Switzerland to start his North American hockey career in the ECHL with the Chesapeake Icebreakers and Wheeling Nailers. The next two seasons saw him in the AHL with Colorado’s affiliate, the Hersey Bears where he went 46-33-7 over those two years. The Avs dealt Billington’s eventual replacement, Marc Denis, to Columbus for a 2nd round pick (Tomas Kurka) in June of 2000. Aebby moved up to the show at camp that same year and would be Roy’s backup until Saint Patrick retired following the 2003 season. In his seasons backing up Roy he compiled a 32-25-3 record (never played more than 26 games a season), won a Stanley Cup, and situated himself as the heir apparent. His first season as a starter in Roy’s shadow was solid with 32-19-9 record in 62 games before losing to San Jose in the second round. The next season saw him back in Switzerland for the lockout. Returning to NHL action the following season saw a drop off in play when he only posted a 25-14-2 record in 43 games and was dealt to Montreal for Jose Theodore the day before the trade deadline (this was despite Theodore being on the IR at the time forcing the Avs to dress Vitaly Kolesnik behind Peter Budaj). Aebby re-signed with Montreal for one year in 2006 and backed up Christobal Huet. The following season saw him sign a one-year deal with the Coyotes but couldn’t crack the roster and was sent to the ‘Yotes affiliate in San Antonio. He was later loaned back to HC Lugano in Switzerland. He’d take another swing at North American hockey with the newly-relocated Jets in 2011 and ended up with their AHL affiliate in St. John’s for the season. He returned to the Swiss leagues for another 3 year before retiring in 2015. Aebby sits at 4th in Avs history for regular season games played and wins, 3rd for shutouts, and had a playoff record of 6-5 (with one shutout) in an Avs sweater.

Andrew Raycroft (12-16-0, 3.14)

Seven days after being bought out by the Maple Leafs, Colorado signed Raycroft to a one-year deal in 2008. He was there to back-up and challenge starter Peter Budaj. His strong play out of the gate (9-1 in his first ten starts) excited many about the former Calder winner (2004 with Boston) perhaps regaining his form. It wasn’t meant to be as his play quickly fell off with him ending up with a 12-16-0 record for the season. Budaj didn’t fare much better overall with a 20-29-5 record in 56 games. Still, the Avs had seen enough from the former 135th overall pick and they parted ways. Raycroft spent a single season with Vancouver the next year before moving on to Dallas to back up Kari Lehtonen. He lost his gig there to Richard Bachman and was sent to the minors.  With another lockout looming, Raycroft took his skillz to Italy in 2012 and then Sweden in 2013. He retired in April of 2014.

Semyon Varlamov (163-137-29, 2.70)

The 23rd overall pick in the 2006 draft by Washington, Varly would have some strong seasons in the nation’s capital including two post-season runs in ’09 and ’10 including holding off a challenge from old friend Jose Theodore before being injured. After re-habbing and taking the reins back in the playoffs, he looked poised to be the team’s incumbent starter entering the 2010-11 season. He changed his number from 40 to the familiar #1 that offseason but couldn’t keep the starting job, losing out to Michal Neuvirth. Colorado swooped in during the 2012 Draft and paid a first and second round pick for the netminder and immediately re-signed the RFA to a three-year deal. Varly started hot before crashing back to earth and losing the starter’s position to backup/mentor J.S. Giguere. The team rode Giggy until a wonky groin thrust Varly into the net where he kept the club in playoff contention until losing to the lowly BJ’s in the second to last game of the season. He ended his first season with Colorado with a record of 26-24-3. He started the next season in the KHL due to the NHL lockout, but upon returning to Colorado, looked rusty and was nursing knee issues from his time in the K. He finished the season with only 11 wins and his worst (at the time) GAA and save %. He rebounded in a big way with Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench in 2013-2014, posting a 41-14-6 record and putting the team on his back for an improbable regular season featuring a GAA of 2.41, a S% of 0.927, and a Vezina nomination. The Avs got bounced in the post-season in a seven games series with somebody and he signed a new 5-year deal. His next two seasons were earily similar with 57 starts each and similar records of 28-20-8 and 27-25-3, respectively. His S% ticked down about .006 each season while his GAA started creeping up. Multiple groin and hip issues also became features of his seasons. Then the bottom fell out in 2016-2017 with the Avs having a historically horrible season and Varly’s worst as a pro (0.898 S%, 3.38 GAA). Varlamov only played 24 (6-17-0) games before going on the shelf. However, the 30-year-old rebounded this last season with a 24-16-6 record, a 0.920 S%, and a 2.68 GAA as the team held together long enough to squeak into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Varlamov was injured again (knee) after a collision with Chicago’s Tomas Jurco in the last game in March and didn’t appear in the playoffs. Varly enters the 2018-2019 season on the last year of his current 5-year, $5.9 million/year contract. He currently sits at 2nd for regular season games, wins, saves, and shutouts to go with a 3-4 playoff record.

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Engineer by day, goalie by night.

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