Washington Capitals v Anaheim Ducks

Varlamov wants to stay with the Caps, only if the price is right

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It’s no secret that the Washington Capitals have been negotiating with restricted free agent Semyon Varlamov to work out a contract extension. The 23-year-old former 1st round pick is finishing up his 3-year entry-level deal that was worth approximately $2.5 million. All parties involved agree he has earned a raise for his second contract—the terms of the raise is where the two sides disagree. To complicate the situation, there are rumors that Varlamov could head back to Russia and the KHL if the Capitals don’t present him with a suitable contract.

Varlamov recently talked about the Capitals and his desire to stay in the NHL in an interview that appeared in the Washington Post:

“My chances of staying in the NHL are high. I would really like to sign a deal in America. Yes, even if it’s for less money than what I am offered in Russia.”

That’s great news, right? So what’s the problem? Here’s the follow up question and answer:

When pressed on how big a pay cut he would be willing to take, Varlamov replied: “Not a really huge one.”

Yeah. So that could be a problem. Rumor has it that SKA St. Petersburg would be offering a contract in the neighborhood of $4 million per season (with significantly lower taxes). In DC, the Caps are likely to offer a contract similar to Michal Neuvirth’s 2-year, $2.3 million deal. To be clear, that’s only $1.15 per season while the KHL could be offering $4 million. If the Capitals expect him to stay for another season, they’re going to need him to take a substantial pay cut.

“According to sources within the KHL, SKA may offer Varlamov a multi-year deal worth in the vicinity of $4 million per year. SKA is notorious as the league’s top spender, and it had made waves last year by acquiring former San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who was subsequently cut from the team in mid-season. SKA is also, for all its lavish ways, a notorious under-achiever, having never won a championship, and this offseason, with a new coaching staff (which includes goalie coach Jussi Parkkila, Varlamov’s personal mentor), the pressure is higher than ever.”

Usually in these situations, the player has most of the leverage in the negotiations. The team desperately wants to keep the player, yet the player has options. Yet in this case, both sides have alternatives. Yes, Varlamov can take the opportunity to bolt to the KHL for his payday. But at the same time, the Capitals are currently sitting on three talented young goaltenders with room for only two on their roster. Here are their numbers last season:

  • Michal Neuvirth: 27-12-4 with a .914 save percentage and 2.45 GAA
  • Semyon Varlamov: 11-9-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.23 GAA
  • Braden Holtby: 10-2-2 with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA

Take a quick look at their statistics and it’s easy to see why the decision will be difficult for Caps GM George McPhee. Braden Holtby clearly has the best statistics—but he also has an incredibly small sample size. Looking at his careers statistics, he’s steadily improved his game each time he’s jumped to a higher league. In the AHL last season, he owned a 2.29 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. The only stats better on his resume were during his 14 game cameo in the NHL. He certainly looks like the type of prospect who is ready for his shot.

Michal Neuvirth gained the trust of head coach Bruce Boudreau last season and the Caps rode him to a spectacular second half. It’s easy to see why Boudreau was so quick to believe in the rookie netminder as well. Neuvirth won back-to-back Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears and was voted the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in October to start the 2010-11 season. He’s a proven winner and has shown he’s capable of being the #1 goaltender on a team expected to win (in the regular season).

Then there’s Varlamov. He had better statistics than Neuvirth—yet his record was pedestrian at best. After his spectacular play against the Rangers in the 2009 playoffs, the hockey world was waiting for him to takeoff. In the 2009-10 season, Varlamov earned the starting role before he was injured. Worse than anything, he’s teased Washington fans with flashes of spectacular play. He shows signs of a goaltender that can carry a team on his back for months at a time; yet he also shows signs of a goaltender that will frustrate fans if they ever truly depend on him.

We’ll find out over the next few weeks which direction the Capitals chose to go with their future. Right now we know that Varlamov would like to stay in the NHL and he’d like to be compensated handsomely for his efforts. In that respect, he’s just like any other player.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, if they don’t come up with decent proposal, Varlamov and SKA St. Petersburg could make their goaltending decision for them.

Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

Mike Fisher
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The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.

A month to remember: Duchene lighting it up in November

Matt Duchene, Nick Holden
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It wasn’t too long ago that a report surfaced saying that the Avalanche were willing to listen to offers on forward Matt Duchene.

When a player’s struggling and rumors start swirling, one of two things tends to happen.

Either the player involved lets it affect his on-ice performance in a negative way or he’s motivated by the trade talk and turns his struggles around.

Instead of pouting, the 24-year-old rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

In October, Duchene scored a goal and an assist in 10 games, but things changed in a hurry when November rolled around.

The Avs forward has picked up at least one point in 11 of 13 games this month.

Duchene has 11 goals and nine assists in November and he still has a game to go before the calendar flips to December.

“Obviously, things completely flip-flopped,” Duchene told the Denver Post. “That’s the coldest start I’ve ever had and things are good right now. Obviously, I know it could go right back, I could go cold again, that’s just the nature of the game. You just have to work every day to keep it going. The most important thing is to be able to provide offense and help the team win.”

PHT Morning Skate: A bride can have her burger and eat it too

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

A woman in a wedding dress was caught eating a burger during Saturday’s game between the Stars and Wild. (Above)

Team Europe has a number of quality goaltending options to chose from ahead of next fall’s World Cup of Hockey. (NHL.com)

Watch as some players on Nashville’s roster try to guess the lyrics to different country songs:

Former goaltender Eddie Johnston sits down for a Q & A with ESPN.com’s Shelly Anderson. (ESPN)

Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher got into a “Twitter war” with former NHLer Jim Kyte. (Puck Daddy)

Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference made a generous donation to a Syrian refugee fund. (Huffington Post)

Julien explains comments about Lundqvist’s ‘acting’

Claude Julien

We’re now over two days removed from last Friday’s tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, but the coaches from both teams seem unwilling to move on.

Moments after that game, Claude Julien claimed that Henrik Lundqvist did some “acting” on the ice to sell a goalie interference call on Brad Marchand.

On Saturday, Alain Vigneault fired back by saying that Julien needed to get his eyesight checked. Vigneault also compared Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in Friday’s game.

Now it was Julien’s turn to address the “issue” at hand.

Julien clarified his original comment about Lundqvist and he also tackled some of Vigneault’s comments.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I said . . . I thought Lundqvist sold it,” said Julien. “Not for a second did I ever question Henrik Lundqvist as a person, or a goaltender or any of that. We all know how good he is as a goaltender, and I know he’s a good person. I’ve met him at the All-Star games and all that stuff.

Julien on his eyesight: “As far as my eyes, I’m not the one that compared Beleskey’s hit to Aaron Rome’s [hit]. We’ll just leave it at that.”

It’s time for both sides to move on.