Semyon Varlamov spoke to the Russian media yesterday at what may just be his final appearance at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Predictably, rumors that the oft-injured goalie may be leaving this offseason, whether to the Kontinental Hockey League (as a restricted free agent, he is eligible to negotiate with Russian teams beginning July 1) or via a trade to another NHL club, are circulating in Washington.
“The season is over, so I can start thinking about the future right now,” said Varlamov, looking a bit more downcast than his usual cheerful self. “I will see what happens. My wish is to stay in the NHL and to play for Washington. Hopefully, I can sign a deal soon.”
Asked what would happen if a KHL team made a better offer, Varlamov said: “I am not ready to answer this question right now. But my childhood dream was to play in the NHL. I am only 23 and I would like to play against the best.”
Varlamov’s decision may well come down not to monetary matters (though a KHL club could swing an offer that, complete with the 15 percent Russian tax rate, might be hard to turn down) but to the opportunity to be a starter. NHL-caliber goalies are an extremely hot commodity in Russia and the KHL has a strict limit on foreign-born netminders’ ice time. So Varlamov, both an NHLer and a native Russian, would be at the top of most teams’ wish lists.
“It is horrible to sit on the bench,” Varlamov said. “This was the first time in my career when I mostly sat and watched. But you have to take lessons from everything and turn it for the best. As they say in America, it was a good experience for me… Yes, that’s it. Sitting on the bench for two rounds. Good experience.”
Despite sounding bitter, Varlamov had no complaints about the Capitals’ decision to play Michal Neuvirth exclusively in the playoffs.
“The coach made no mistake in selecting [Neuvirth],” Varlamov said. “Neuvirth played great.”
He also downplayed both his disappointment with this season, noting that he finished fourth in the league in both goals against average and save percentage, as well as his injuries. (“These were just minor aches that are fully healed now,”he said.)
General Manager George McPhee, of course, has rejected the idea that the Capitals need to make a goaltending decision urgently. He was also rather blunt yesterday about Varlamov’s KHL choices, saying that if a player is considering European options, he is free to go at any time.
Slava Malamud is a reporter for Russia’s Sport-Express.