Semyon Varlamov

Bitter Semyon Varlamov hopeful to stay in NHL next year after being Caps backup

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It’s possible that throughout the Capitals run to the playoffs, another Southeast Division title, and earning the top spot in the Eastern Conference that you lost track of one-time starting goalie Semyon Varlamov. When Michal Neuvirth took over the lead job in Washington for the playoffs after both he and Varlamov essentially split roles during the regular season, you could expect that that wouldn’t go over well for the Russian Varlamov who spent last season as the Caps top guy.

Getting bumped down the depth chart is a humbling experience and for Varlamov. He’s due to become a restricted free agent in the offseason, and the Caps failing to get out of the second round made for an even more difficult and trying time to ride the pine. With the Caps out of the playoffs, Varlamov is looking ahead to next year and hoping that he’s got a chance to start again. As for having to sit idly by to watch his team be eliminated, Varlamov tells Slava Malamud of Russian’s Sport-Express  that it was a learning experience in the most sarcastic of ways possible.

“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.”

As for Varlamov’s future with Neuvirth the heir apparent and another youngster in Braden Holtby waiting in the wings, Varlamov says that he’d like to get a shot at starting. Failing that, heading back to Russia is an option he’s keeping open.

“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.”

He is still young and with three young goalies on the staff in Washington, it gives them the opportunity to potentially explore moving one of them to get something a bit more useful in return. Between Neuvirth, Varlamov, and Holtby there are guys that other teams in need of goaltending could try to dazzle the Caps on dealing. The catch here is that the Caps are reticent to give up any of their young players even if they’ve got a surplus of them. George McPhee isn’t a GM that’s going to make trades just because he can.

Making things tricky if Varlamov is the guy the Caps would be more willing to deal is Varlamov’s injury history. He’s struggled with staying healthy each season he’s played and him being injured this season opened the door for Neuvirth to take over. There’s a bright future ahead for all three of these guys, but going with a two goalie rotation can be tricky enough, working with three is nearly impossible without keeping an NHL-caliber guy in the AHL. Varlamov’s summer could prove to be very anxious.

No ‘crystal ball’ — CEO for Barclays Center can’t guarantee Isles will stay

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  Fans arrive for the game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Barclays Center on September 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Pleased with the progress made during the New York Islanders’ first season in Brooklyn, Brett Yormark is looking forward to the team’s second year at Barclays Center.

“I thought we ended the year in a much better place than we started,” said Brett Yormark, the Chief Executive Office for Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which oversees business operations and marketing for the Barclays Center. “When you look back at those playoff games they were some of the most dramatic moments we’ve had here.”

Pointing to the improvements the team made with game presentation, including the hiring of a hockey-centric group to take over game days, Yormark said the atmosphere during the Islanders’ run to the Eastern Conference semifinals – and their first postseason series victory since 1993 – showed “hockey has arrived in Brooklyn.”

However, Yormark wouldn’t comment on reports the Islanders were already considering leaving for a new arena either near Citi Field, home to baseball’s New York Mets, or Belmont Park.

“I can’t speak to that,” Yormark said Monday in a Q&A with media before the team’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Flyers. “All I can speak to is that collectively our team here at Barclays Center will do everything we can to provide the fans and the players with a first-class experience. And that’s what I’m focused on.”

The Islanders moved to the Brooklyn arena – home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets since 2012 – last year after spending the franchise’s first 43 seasons at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The deal with Barclays Center on a 25-year lease was announced in 2012 after a failed attempt to secure public financing for a new arena on Long Island and zoning approval was rejected for a privately funded development plan that would have included renovations to the Coliseum

Newsday reported earlier this month the lease has an opt-out clause with a January 2017 deadline for either side to terminate the deal. The Islanders could do it effective the end of the third season, and either side could do it for after the fourth season.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Yormark said. “I can’t tell you what the future holds. But I can tell you adamantly that we’re committed to providing a great season for everyone involved.”

To that end, Yormark said arena management conducted focus groups with fans in Brooklyn and on Long Island, asking what they liked and what they wanted to see improved.

One of the top complaints was about transportation on the Long Island Rail Road after games. Fans were displeased with the service during the season, but noted it had improved for the playoffs, and Yormark said the LIRR had agreed to maintain the additional schedule of trains after games this season.

Among other topics Yormark addressed:

— Fans can expect to see more Islanders branding and signage around the arena, “so they can feel this is their home.” He also said there will be more equal availability of Islanders and Nets merchandising at the arena’s retail stores.

— With fans’ desire for more weekend games, Yormark noted there were 18 games scheduled on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays this season, an increase from last year. “It’s something we need to look at and see where we can make more improvements for next year,” he said.

— The team’s ticket base had grown, with a marked increase in Manhattan residents who grew up in Long Island. He said the Long Island base had stabilized, while acknowledging some full-season ticket holders had chosen to trade down to partial plans.

“We’ve addressed everything fans had their hands raised about,” Yormark said. “I’m sure there will be more during the course of the season. We’ll remain flexible like we were last year. We’ll continue to learn and where we can get better, we will.”

Rangers believe Zibanejad’s best is yet to come

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 5:  Mika Zibanejad #93 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 5,2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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It’s plausible – yet not guaranteed – that Derick Brassard will be better next season than the player he was traded for, Mika Zibanejad.

Plenty of New York Rangers fans are justified in being excited about the long-term impact of the move, and not merely because of the second-round pick they received in the swap.

Zibanejad is a lot younger than Brassard. Even if Brassard ages well at 29, his Swedish trade counterpart is merely 23. The Rangers, quite reasonably, wonder if Zibanejad’s best days are still ahead of him.

“He’s a younger player that our scouting staff and our management all felt he was on the upswing,” Vigneault said to the Rangers’ website. “The speed is there. The skill is there. The youth is there. We believe he’s not fully developed yet and with the right environment teammate wise, coaching wise, we can get more from [him].”

Brassard provides a decent example of Vigneault & Co. bringing a prospect to the next level, actually.

After maintaining his level of play in his first season with the Rangers (45 points in 81 games with a 15:48 average time on ice), Brassard scored 60 and 58 points during his next two seasons with New York. He peaked at almost 18 minutes per game last season, which is right in line with the reps Zibanejad enjoyed with Ottawa in 2015-16.

Zibanejad believes he hasn’t peaked yet either, which is promising since he scored 21 goals and 51 points last season. It’s not outrageous to pencil him in for Brassard-like production in 2016-17.

DJ Z Bad lined up between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to start things off with the Rangers, making for quite the interesting mix of talent, speed and force.

The trade already looks promising for the Rangers, but depending upon how Zibanejad develops, the difference could be especially glaring.

More on DJ Z Bad

Poll: Who will win the trade?

Zibanejad wants to take the next step

He’s under pressure

Capitals pushed by ‘that hurt’ from playoff letdown

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his game winning overtime goal against the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When Matt Niskanen contemplated skipping a trip to the gym over the summer, he remembered what happened in May.

As the offseason went on, Niskanen thought less and less about the Washington Capitals’ loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, he let the memory of the second-round playoff exit fuel him from time to time.

“That hurt, it lingers, and I think you can use that as motivation,” Niskanen said. “That kind of stuff creeps into your mind and it pushes you.”

Now several months removed from another painful playoff loss, the Capitals came to training camp ready to harness whatever energy they could from that while also preparing to move past it and focus on another run at the Cup this season. Almost the entire roster is back from the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team that ran roughshod over the NHL during the regular season, and with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby in their primes, there isn’t time to waste on reflection and hindsight.

“You need to see where things went awry and try to rectify it,” said veteran winger Justin Williams, one of several players with one year left on his contract. “We set a standard with having successful teams, a team every year fans can look at and say, `You know, we legitimately have a chance to win it again.’ As players we embrace that and we respect it and we know that these opportunities that we have in front of us aren’t forever.”

Along with Williams, winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman Karl Alzner could be unrestricted free agents July 1. Restricted free agent center Evgeny Kuznetsov will get a big raise on a new deal, and Washington’s salary cap picture will get more difficult as the years go on.

Ovechkin also just turned 31, and while he led the league in scoring last season, there’s no certainty as to how long his Hall of Fame-caliber production will keep up. After winning the division by 16 points and losing in the second round – again – general manager Brian MacLellan doesn’t think there’s a bigger burden on winning this year with so many unknowns on the horizon.

“I think there’s pressure every year,” MacLellan said. “Last year we were a contender, there’s pressure. Same pressure this year. We have a goal of winning a championship. We know we’re close and we need to pursue it and we’ll do everything we can to get there.”

Alzner was just starting to get over the early exit when pictures of the Penguins celebrating with the Cup filled up his social media feeds. The ironman whose groin injury forced him out of the deciding Game 6 and led to sports hernia surgery scoffed at the notion that Pittsburgh winning makes the loss easier to take.

“It’s worse, in my opinion, because then you really think, `OK if I could have got past that team then the Cup was ours,”‘ said Alzner, who’s still working his way back to 100 percent. “I think that all of us in the room thought that we were going to win that last year.”

Being great in the regular season and losing in the first or second round has become the Capitals’ reputation over the past decade. The 2015-16 team was perhaps the best on paper, which made the late stumble into summer that much more confounding.

As more top players continue to trickle back into town after playing in the World Cup of Hockey, associate coach Todd Reirden expects the staff to impart lessons about last season on the full group. Early in camp, the mood is light with players eager to make a fresh start and learn from losing to the Penguins.

Asked what the Capitals can do to improve, Williams deadpanned: “We can finish the season with a win. That’s it.”

That’s a challenge that can’t be accomplished until the spring. Players, coaches and fans may want to fast-forward until then, but Washington has to again get there first.

“You’ve got to be patient,” center Jay Beagle said. “The game has to develop. We’ve got new guys, so we want to go into this year making sure we’re playing our best going into the end of the year and in the playoffs.”

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Plenty of betting options for World Cup final round

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 24:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins checks Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Bovada released a wide array of betting options for the best-of-three final round of the World Cup between Canada and Team Europe on Monday.

Naturally, there are the run of the mill matters like game lines:

Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

Europe +575 (23/4)

Canada -1000 (1/10)

Total Goals Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

Over/Under 6

Interesting over/under, huh?

Things get more fun as the prop bets get stranger/more specific. Personally, the head-to-head player bets rank among the most fascinating:

Who will record more points in the game?

Sidney Crosby (CAN) 2/3

Anze Kopitar (EUR) 11/4

Draw 5/2

Who will record more points in the game?

Patrice Bergeron (CAN) 1/1

Draw 2/1

Marian Hossa (EUR) 9/4

Who will record more points in the game?

Brad Marchand (CAN) 4/5

Draw 9/5

Mats Zuccarello (EUR) 3/1

Hmm, maybe Marchand wouldn’t be the greatest bet. He’s probably feeling pretty fat and happy after signing that $49 million contract extension, after all.

At least one outlet finds Europe to be an enticing gamble thanks to Jaroslav Halak‘s hot play, for what it’s worth.