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Colorado’s curious way to fill goaltending needs leaves Caps GM scratching his head

Jul 1, 2011, 8:53 PM EDT

Semyon Varlamov Getty Images

When today’s free agent frenzy began, the Colorado Avalanche began the day with no goalies to speak of on their NHL roster. With that kind of immediate shopping list to fulfill and the pickings out there fairly limited, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman had some work to do. With Tomas Vokoun set to be the biggest goaltending name on the free agent list, the Avalanche seemed poised to open up the vault for him and bring him in. Not so fast.

Instead, Sherman went in a different direction. Rather than sign Vokoun, he swung a trade with the Washington Capitals for restricted free agent goalie Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov had been making rumblings about how he was set to jump to the KHL rather than deal with the Capitals and their goaltending situation, but now he’s set to be the man in Colorado as the Avalanche signed Varlamov to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million.

The package the Avalanche gave up for Varlamov, however, is stunning: Colorado gives Washington their 2012 first round pick as well as a 2012 or 2013 second round pick. With Colorado not shaping up to be a contending team next year, that pick could turn out to be a lottery choice. The Capitals probably don’t need that kind of help to improve, but Colorado gave it to them.

Capitals GM George McPhee was perhaps the most surprised guy around at the offer for Varlamov as CSN Washington’s Ryan O’Halloran finds out.

“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 we would have to do something with one of the goaltenders,” McPhee said during a briefing Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But we got that value now.

“Given the injuries, I was surprised we got it now but it was a good deal for Colorado – they got a kid who has lots of upside and if he can stay healthy, will be really good for them.”

Upside is the big thing here. Varlamov has played pretty well for Washington in his two and a half years in D.C. Varlamov has gone 30-13-12 in that time with a 2.39 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. The one major issue with Varlamov in his career has been staying healthy and not giving up the occasional soft goal. Injuries the last couple years opened the door to seeing both Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth to getting their fair share of starts and Neuvirth took the starting job over last season.

With that sort of track record, it’s stunning that Greg Sherman would fork over two draft picks that could turn into big time players. The 2012 draft is believed to be a very deep one and with the Avalanche potentially giving up a very high choice to Washington, they’d better hope that Varlamov can get comfortable and dominate in goal. Sherman did lock up some backup help and a mentor for Varlamov today as well in the form of Jean-Sebastien Giguere signing him to a two year contract worth $2.5 million.

The Avalanche’s plan in goal is beyond curious and the package they gave up to get Varlamov is mind-numbingly bad, especially given Varlamov’s big talk about going to the KHL. Sure, money talks and in this case it keeps him in the NHL but that kind of attitude heading into a situation where the team was as bad as they were last year you have to wonder what’s going through Varlamov’s head. McPhee says that all he wanted was the chance to be #1 unchallenged.

“There was a deal to be made,” McPhee said. “In fact, we were close last weekend. The issue really was that he wanted in his mind to be guaranteed that he’s the No. 1 guy and be paid like that and we couldn’t guarantee that with the competition we have at that position.”

The Capitals preferred to have a system for one more year that included Varlamov competing with Neuvrith and Holtby.

“You can’t really guarantee any player anything; they have to come in and prove themselves,” McPhee said. “Varly is committed to being a really good player and we said, ‘Come back and compete for it.’ He didn’t seem to want to do that and the indication was, if [the No. 1 job] wasn’t there, he was going to play in Russia for a year.”

Now Varlamov heads to Colorado where he’ll likely be the top guy as long as his play earns that status. With Giguere there as a safety net, he’s not really the guy you want starting every game, but if Varlamov suffers or gets hurt, it’s all on Giguere to try to keep the team alive. That’s a rough spot to be in from the get go. The Avs are taking a big chance on this situation and after how poorly they did last year, instead of getting a sure thing they think playing risky is how to get it done. It’s a gutsy move by Sherman to do it this way, but perhaps he’s on to something the rest of us aren’t clued in on with Semyon Varlamov.

  1. warpstonebc - Jul 1, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    What weird logic. He’s got a lot of potential upside, so let’s give up a lot and sign him for… 2 years?


  2. bigbear42 - Jul 1, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    I really cant believe the Caps got a first and a second for Varly. One or the other maybe, but for a guy they were half expecting to bolt for Russia this is just plain robbery.

    • govtminion - Jul 2, 2011 at 9:06 AM

      I can’t believe that the Avs are the ones that offered the deal- here, take my wallet, want the keys to my car too?

      If Varlamov doesn’t start doing a convincing Tim Thomas imitation right off the bat in Denver, Avs fans are going to want Greg Sherman’s head on a platter. That city has had enough of ineptitude running it’s teams into the ground lately (see: McDaniels, Josh).

  3. returnofthepeg - Jul 2, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    I’m not sure if G-Mac is a genius or Greg Sherman is a lunatic. Either way it was clear that Varlamov had no future with the Caps and Colorado could have gotten just about anything for him. Heck, simply signing him to an offer sheet would have only cost them a second round pick. I have a hard time believing the Caps would have matched considering a 2-year deal at 2.5 million for a third string goalie wouldnt be in their plans. Colorado got fleeced. Their current roster is worse than the roster that finished 29th last season. The Capitals could realistically get a top 5 pick if not better.

    One year ago this team was the envy of the league. They were young, up-and-coming, successful and Cheap. The second year after a succesful one is always painful but it is no need to panic like Sherman did. Now they are years away from another playoff appearance and their first round pick next year is gone. This franchise is in serious trouble and the future is now extremely bleak.

    • aherna - Jul 2, 2011 at 11:37 PM

      attention, quebec city: the avs — that is, nords — will be back in the few years. the kroenkes are trying to beat the team into the ground. and they’ll be doing the same to arsenal in the english premiership.

  4. kayehale - Jul 2, 2011 at 5:11 AM

    Awesome, Printapon saves me time and money! You can see the coupons instantly and don’t have to search for ones.

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