Semyon Varlamov’s future with the Washington Capitals has become a bit more cloudy over recent days as rumblings persist that the restricted free agent may either bolt to the KHL, or that the Capitals may not be as high on Varly as they were a year ago. Entering the 2010-2011 season, Varlamov was the consensus number one in the District. Fast forward to today, and that is no longer the case. The resurgence of Michal Neuvirth into a legitimate NHL number one goalie, and the sudden growth and maturation of Braden Holtby just may be Varlamov’s ticket out of town. Couple that with a recent tweet from hockey insider Dmitry Chesonokov, and things really get dicey if your in the Varlamov camp. With less then a month left until the free agency period begins, if its true that the two parties haven’t even talked about a contract extension yet – bad news. That said, I’m not ready to call it just yet on Varly’s tenure in D.C. George McPhee is notoriously tight-lipped about dealings with personnel, that I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if an offer is ready for Varlamov.
If you are Varlamov, you certainly don’t have much to lean on in terms of performance this past season. It was down year for Varlamov health-wise as he once again fought injuries for most of the season. Varlamov has been plagued by injuries for most of his tenure with the Capitals. This year was no different as he appeared in just 27 games, posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA. Varly’s save percentage and GAA were actually better the Michal Neuvirth’s over the course of the season. But the problem for Varly is that if he can’t remain healthy, he isn’t going to get the offer he wants from either the Capitals or another club in the NHL.
The issue the Capitals are facing is whether they are ready to part ways with a goaltender who has proven he can win in the NHL, as well as in the playoffs. We all know the faults plaguing the Capitals in the post season. They are now notorious for choking in the playoffs, however none of their playoff shortcomings can be attributed to their goaltending. Each and every year, the goaltending has lived up to the expectations set. And Varly was a big reason for that. The situation is a tricky one for the Capitals because parting ways with Varlamov means Holtby will be the likely back up for Neuvirth next season. Despite Holtby’s success this season, his action was limited to just 14 games. His record in those games was a mind-numbing 10-2-2 with a 1.79 GAA. Is this a large enough sample size to justify parting ways with a guy who was top-5 in the NHL in both GAA and save percentage? The answer to that is obviously yes, if you can get something in return for Varlamov’s services. Then it is a risk worth taking. There is no chance the Capitals will let a guy this talented walk away to another NHL club the way the Blackhawks let Niemi walk. If the Capitals can trade away the rights to Varly and get some much needed help at the Center of Defense positions, I say the Capitals should talk with any and all interested parties. But as is the case with life in general, this is easier said then done because NHL clubs interested in Varly’s services wouldn’t have the guarantee that Varly wouldn’t jump to the KHL.
Also not working in the Capitals favor will be the dollars required to keep him in D.C. With Neuvirth already having signed an extension a season ago, Varly will likely be coveting similar dollars. The list of restricted free agents the Capitals must sign is lengthy, none more important then Karl Alzner. In addition, unrestricted free agents like Brooks Laich will be looking for raises this offseason, further putting pressure on McPhee to do his math with regard to the Cap. Then there is the need to improve the team from the outside via free agency. The Capitals are far to young down the middle and need to add a defenseman, preferably with some speed, if they wish to contend again next year. With Neuvirth in place as the teams starting goalie next season, and Holtby proving he’s an NHL ready goalie, Varly just may be the odd man out.
So do you feel the Caps should retain Varlamov next season, trade his rights away, or let him walk to the KHL?
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.