Former Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov has finally decided to break his silence about the circumstances of his trade to Colorado and some of the late-June craziness that involved his near-transfer to the KHL.
I visited Varlamov in Lancaster, Pa., where he was living with a friend from his Hershey days. He is staying there throughout July, though he will need to take a trip to Washington to extend his U.S. visa. Apparently, when leaving for America a couple of weeks ago, Varlamov didn’t expect to stay long. He still thought he may never get traded and would have to go back to Russia, to start the KHL training camp. SKA St. Petersburg’s training camp starts July 20. Varlamov’s return flight (now canceled) was for July 19.
While Varlamov didn’t offer details about specific offers he had from KHL clubs, he did confirm that it was a real possibility.
“[If I weren’t traded] I think, I’d come back to the KHL,” he said. “I can’t say anything bad about the Capitals but it was time to change things. I was mentally tired after these three years.”
Would you also have considered the KHL if the Capitals were to trade you to a team you didn’t like?
No, I would go anywhere, I wouldn’t make demands. It’s just that at some point I believed I wouldn’t get traded at all.
Everyone knows that in the KHL you were being sought by SKA.
Not only SKA. I considered Lokomotiv, too. But SKA had the advantage because they had hired a great goalie coach in Jussi Parkkila [Varlamov’s old coach whom he considers his mentor]. This is a guy who would’ve kept me on the same high level. Logically, if I were to return, it would be to him.
Did SKA guarantee you the starting job?
Nobody could guarantee me that, neither SKA nor Lokomotiv. You always have to prove yourself and I never ask for any guarantees, simply because nobody will ever give me any.
Did you feel that Washington wouldn’t give you a chance to start this season?
You know, I honestly think they would. If I returned to the Caps and showed myself well, I would’ve been given the starting job. No, it was more about my own feeling that I needed a climate change. A fresh start.
When I asked George McPhee what he would do if you were leaning towards the KHL, he answered “Let him go.” Did this influence your feeling towards Washington?
Not at all. We simply couldn’t agree on a deal and I wanted a change.
Did they offer you the same money as Neuvirth got?
No, I was given an OK deal, though quite different from what I got in Colorado. I don’t think that McPhee was unfair to me. It’s not like I was able to show myself as someone truly outstanding in these three years. I don’t feel like I had earned huge money yet. But I wanted to sign a three-year deal so that I wouldn’t have to change teams right before the Olympics.
Ted Leonsis seemed to have given you a parting shot on his blog. Did it rub you the wrong way?
Yes, it’s not too pleasant when, after three years, you get such a farewell. But I didn’t think too much of that. Everyone has an opinion. It all turned out great for me and Washington has nothing to complain about. Three strong young goalies is a little too many. And now they also have Vokoun. The Caps have a great chance to win the Stanley Cup. As for what Leonsis said, if that is what he actually meant to say, let it stay on his conscience. I’ve always had a good relationship with him, by the way.
Did McPhee have to ensure that you would actually sign with Colorado before trading you?
It’s obvious that when a team is willing to give up this much, they know in advance that I will sign. Yes, there was an agreement. My agent called me and said there was a possibility to go to Colorado. As soon as I heard it, I said that we need to agree on a deal no matter what.
Did they tell you the terms in advance, too?
No, I found that out right before the trade, on July 1. I was pleasantly surprised. It was good money and three years, like I wanted.
So McPhee surprised you, then?
He surprised everyone. As for me, I was never expecting this; that’s why I was looking at KHL offers. But when my agent called, I thought that if I turn this chance down, I will curse myself for the rest of my life. I needed to make this decision on my own. I didn’t even consult anyone, so that nobody could confuse me. I felt it in my heart that the decision was right.
Ovechkin was in Denver during your press conference. Did he come to meet you?
Seriously, he was there? I never knew. But I was only there for half a day. We’d never have a chance to meet anyway.
What are your feelings as you are leaving Washington?
This is what I want to say to the fans. When I got out on the ice, saw the full stands and heard the “Varly” chant, I really felt their love. Washington fans are among the best in the NHL. Thank you very much. Good luck to you and your team.
Was Colorado really your favorite team growing up?
Of course! This wasn’t just something I made up for the press conference. When I was little, back in the 1990s, I always followed the Avs and Patrick Roy. Can you imagine what I felt like when the other day I got a phone call and heard “Hello Varly, this is Patrick”? Everything has turned out perfectly.
You can check out the full interview, in Russian, on Sport-Express.
Slava Malamud is a reporter for Russia’s Sport-Express.