- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

The NHL has 30 teams and is thinking of expanding, but the Washington Capitals’ schedule released yesterday makes it look like the league is shrinking.

In the 2007-08 season the Caps won’t travel farther west than St. Louis, and they stop there only once.

“It’s a decent schedule,” said George McPhee, confirming the suspicion that no general manager is satisfied with a schedule unless he draws it up himself. “It’s a tough November [when the team plays eight of 15 games on the road], but the rest is OK. We have six [in a row] on the road in March, which is pretty late, but we’ll be OK.”

The six-game trip from March 18 to March 29 is the Caps’ only road stretch of more than three games all season.

Washington opens Oct. 5 in Atlanta and closes the season April 5 at home against Florida. Nineteen of the Caps’ 41 home games fall on weekends with nine on Saturdays and five apiece on Fridays and Sundays. Four homestands have at least four games.

The Caps will be home against defending Eastern Conference champion Ottawa on New Year’s Day, a Tuesday.

Varlamov signs deal

The schedule wasn’t the only news the team announced yesterday. The team signed its second first-round draft pick from 2006, goalie Simeon Varlamov of Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League, to a three-year entry level contract.

The contract has an option in the first year for the Caps to assign him to Russia, where he could sign a one-year contract with a Super League team before rejoining the organization the next season. Varlamov does not have a contract with a Super League team at this point, so the deal will help the Caps avoid conflict with Russian hockey’s governing body.

Varlamov had a record of 15-7-6 for Yaroslavl with a 2.12 goals-against average in 31 games. He already has played in two world junior championships and is on the preliminary roster to play in the Russia-Canada super series later this summer.

Local flavor

This is the first time the club’s summer development camp, which started yesterday morning, has been held inside the Beltway. Before the move to Kettler Iceplex in Arlington, it was in Hershey, Pa. Before that the camp was held at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md.

Of the 33 players in the camp, Steve Werner of Chevy Chase and Luke Lynes of Ellicott City are the two locals trying to make the roster or at least get a long look.

The camp also includes Quebec Major Junior Hockey League MVP Mathieu Perreault and right wing Francois Bouchard, the league’s top scorer. Both were drafted by Washington in 2006.

Five first-round picks are in camp — Varlamov, defenseman Karl Alzner (2007), center Nicklas Backstrom (2006) and defensemen Sasha Pokulok and Joe Finley (both 2005).