Semyon Varlamov’s term with the Washington Capitals ended today when he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche, ending the lengthy saga over how he would fit into the goalie rotation with Michal Neuvirth as the incumbent starter and 21-year-old Braden Holtby showing tremendous promise.
Washington received a first-round pick next season and a conditional second-rounder either next season or in 2013 in exchange for the talented-but-oft-injured goalie, whose departure seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
Reports based on comments from Varlamov’s Russian agent surfaced this week stating that the former first-round draft pick had opted to return home and play in the Kontinental Hockey League. Varlamov was a restricted free agent and received a qualifying offer from the Capitals, but had he gone to the KHL, the team would have received nothing in return.
During his news conference today following a frenzied afternoon in which the Capitals also acquired three players, General Manager George McPhee emphasized that the club essentially had no choice but to trade Varlamov because of how attractive the terms of the deal were.
“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 going to have to do something with one of the goaltenders,” McPhee said. “But we got that value now, and given the injury, I’m surprised we got that now.”
While Varlamov (11-9-5, 2.23 GAA) was considered the most physically gifted goalie in the Capitals organization, he missed most of the first two months of the season with a groin injury and then most of March with a knee injury that required minor surgery. That unavailability opened the door for Neuvirth, 23, to lock down the starting job, which he did by winning 27 games to set the franchise record for a rookie.
Complicating matters for Varlamov, 23, was the emergence of Holtby, whose progression in just 14 games for the Capitals last season fueled speculation about how Washington would handle the crowded goalie situation. Holtby, 21, went 10-2 with two shutouts and a team-best 1.79 GAA during two call-up stints, including going 8-1 in his second time around.
Despite his injury problems, Varlamov had been the club’s most tested goalie in the postseason. Thrust into the playoffs for the first time in 2009 when starter Jose Theodore fizzled, Varlamov went 7-6 with two shutouts and a 2.53 GAA. He played in 19 postseason games with Washington. Neuvirth just completed his first postseason, which comprised nine starts.
“We’ve always said we’ve loved our kids, the three goalies, and now that there’s two, we’re very happy with them,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday. “We thought Neuvy was great last year. We thought when Braden came up the first time he had some hiccups, and nerves played a big part of it, but the second time he came up, his last nine games [he was much better], so they’re going to be given a great opportunity next year.”