UPDATED 4:44 P.M.
The question of whether Semyon Varlamov will return to the Capitals — or the NHL, for that matter — continues to evolve this week with the latest development coming out of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl announced Wednesday that it will not trade Varlamov’s KHL rights and would like to sign the 23-year-old goaltender. The earliest Varlamov could sign in the KHL, though, is July 1.
According to both Slava Malamud of Russia’s Sport-Express and Dmitry Chesnokov, of Russia’s Sovetsky Sport and Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, it’s believed Lokomotiv will offer Varlamov around $2 million per season.
It’s still possible the Capitals could reach an agreement with Varlamov, who is a restricted free agent, and he could return. However, in a story for Yahoo’s Puck Daddy Chesnokov reported quotes from the goaltender’s Russian agent Vyacheslav Makhrenskiy that indicate Varlamov has chosen to play in the KHL.
“Varlamov has offers from Washington and from Russia. At this moment Varlamov chose the KHL. But exactly which club I cannot tell you.”
From the interview:
Q. Where is Semyon right now?
MAKHRENSKIY: “He left for America on Wednesday.”
“That means that he agreed to the NHL offer?
“No, no. Semyon wants to work out with Hershey’s coach, who gets him ready every offseason. This specialist also works in the National Football League. He has to improve Varlamov’s physical conditioning working on the ground and in the gym. And when Semyon comes back, which will be in mid-July, he will start on ice training with Jussi Parkkila, the goaltending coach Semyon has been working with for 4 years.”
[It should be noted that Parkkila is also SKA’s goaltending coach].
There is a stereotype that Varlamov is often injured. But his father told Sovetsky Sport that this is because he was improperly treated [by the doctors] in Washington. Do you agree?
“Everything is good with his health! When Semyon came back to Russia after the season we conducted a very thorough [medical] exam. There were no scars in places where the groin was injured.
“Actually, there are problems with medical care in Washington. Doctors in Russia are better. It happened when the Capitals’ doctor says ‘Everything is alright, let him play.’ Semyon feels that his knee is still hurting. But he goes out to play, and then he’s injured again. And the injury is not that serious, but he couldn’t play again.”
Has it ever happened that Washington kept healthy Varlamov on the bench?
“It’s clear why it was done. The Capitals were getting ready for the new negotiations. But they didn’t expect that Semyon could pick Russia. Washington management thought that they were in charge of the situation. But it turned out not to be the case.”
The Capitals have not responded to calls and messages seeking comment on the matter. With regard to Varlamov, Washington’s team spokesman offered the following statement: “Our long standing policy is not to comment on ongoing contract negotiations with players.”
Washington submitted a qualifying offer to Varlamov, meaning it retains his negotiating rights and has the opportunity to match any offer sheet he would receive from another NHL team. The Capitals would receive draft pick compensation should he sign an offer sheet with another club.
If Varlamov were to sign in the KHL, Washington would receive nothing in return but it would retain his NHL negotiating rights.
Varlamov, 23, was limited to only 27 appearances in the 2010-11 season largely because of injuries. He missed the majority of the first two months of the season along with part of training camp with a nagging groin muscle pull and later missed most of March following a knee injury which required minor surgery.
Asked about Varlamov’s future on Tuesday, General Manager George McPhee didn’t offer much clarity to the situation. McPhee did say that if Varlamov were to re-sign with the Capitals, he would have the opportunity to compete with Michal Neuvirth, 23, and Braden Holtby, 21, to be the team’s No. 1 netminder.
“We’ve negotiated,” McPhee said. “I don’t know any more than you do at this point, whether it will happen or not.”
McPhee said the Capitals would remain committed to their young goaltenders, whether Varlamov re-signs or not. “It’s either the three that we have or the two that we have,” McPhee said.
Should Varlamov not return, however, the Capitals could also consider bringing in a veteran backup to allow Holtby more starts and ice time to develop with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. Goaltenders who will be unrestricted free agents at noon Friday and possibly fit that backup role include Johan Hedberg and Brian Boucher.
Neuvirth appeared in 48 games in the 2010-11 regular season, finishing 27-12-4 with a .914 save percentage and 2.45 goals against average, but he must continue to prove he can remain healthy throughout the course of a rigorous NHL schedule. Meanwhile, Holtby spent the bulk of the season in Hershey, where he went 17-10-2 with a .920 save percentage and 2.29 GAA, but when recalled to the Capitals put up a 10-2-2 record with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA.