Two days ago it seemed like Semyon Varlamov was going to spend next winter in Russia, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. As of Friday, Varlamov was ticketed for cold weather — but in the Rocky Mountains, instead.
On Friday afternoon, the Capitals dealt the 23-year-old goaltender to the Colorado Avalanche for first- and second-round picks, giving him an opportunity to be a starter.
“The goaltending position was a priority for us. We believe [that] in Semyon Varlamov we’ve addressed those needs,” Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman said in a conference call with reporters Friday evening. “There is a belief that this player is gonna be the guy that can carry the load for us and become the type of goalie we think this organization needs.”
There was a report from TSN’s Gord Miller that Varlamov had agreed to a two-year, $5.5 million deal, but no official information about a signing came from the Avalanche. An email to the Avalanche asking for comment was not returned. So for all intents and purposes, Colorado just traded for Varlamov’s rights.
If the Avalanche are able to lock up Varlamov, he will be the man while former Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere (signed for two years at a reported $1.25 million per season) will back him up.
Varlamov played just 27 games this past season with Washington, going 11-9-5 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Groin and knee injuries derailed 2011-12 for him but he’s expected to get his chance to play 50-plus games with the Avalanche.
“He seems like a kid who really wants to learn as much as he possibly can while he’s at this young age and has this potential,” said analyst Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild.
Potential turned into a major return for the Caps, who received Colorado’s first-round pick in 2012 and a second-rounder in either 2012 or 2013 — the Caps’ choice. Sherman could have just sent an offer sheet for Varlamov, but he said he was convinced Washington would match.
Caps general manager George McPhee said he would have liked to keep Varlamov, but any possibility for a deal fell apart when the Russian netminder wanted a guarantee to be the starter. With Michal Neuvirth establishing himself as an NHL goalie, that wasn’t possible, and McPhee said “you really can’t guarantee any player anything.”
So the Caps got an impressive haul for the restricted free agent.
“We were hoping to have Semyon back this year and play a full season so we could get that kind of value for him next summer because we knew next summer we were gonna have to do something with one of the goaltenders.,” McPhee told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But we got that value now. Given the injuries, I was surprised that we got it now, but it was a good deal for Colorado. They got a kid who’s got lots of upside, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be really good for them.”
The Caps now turn to Neuvirth and 21-year-old Braden Holtby to split the duties at the NHL level. According to Goldman, that could mean Dany Sabourin and Jared DiMichiel — or maybe even Philipp Grubauer — play with the Hershey Bears. Bruce Boudreau and McPhee believe Holtby is ready for an NHL job.
“We’d like to see him play up here and play a lot,” McPhee said. “Let’s let these two guys go at it and share the responsibility and see how they do.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t call it an open competition, but Holtby will get a chance to prove something.
Said Goldman: “You never know what you have in a young goalie in terms of mental toughness and upside until you give them an opportunity.”