Los Angeles Kings v Washington Capitals

Semyon Varlamov’s Russian agent bashes the Washington Capitals


It’s rarely safe to assume much about free agency until names are signed on dotted lines, but there’s a strong feeling that young goalie Semyon Varlamov’s days with the Washington Capitals are numbered. (And those numbers seem like they’ll be in the single digits.)

Earlier today, Joe passed along reports that Varlamov will leave the NHL for the greener, Russian pastures of the KHL.

Again, we warn you not to assume that this situation is set in stone, but logic weighs on the side of a departure. As a restricted free agent in a market with a limited number of goalie openings, Varlamov probably wouldn’t be able to maximize his earning potential if he stayed in the NHL. Much like (much older, unrestricted free agent goalie) Evgeni Nabokov before him, Varlamov can make a lot more money by playing overseas in the KHL.

One would think that Varlamov and his reps would have an “all-business” attitude toward his (soon-to-be-former?) employers, the Washington Capitals. After all, the Caps’ reluctance to give Varlamov the $4 million per year deal he reportedly seeks is pretty reasonable. Despite showing flashes of brilliance, Varlamov struggles with injuries and therefore lacks the kind of track record necessary for a big raise. It’s my gut instinct that he’s a bit better than Michal Neuvirth, but the Capitals’ other top option in net will only make $1.15 million per year for the next two seasons. It would take a phenomenal sales job to convince the Capitals that Varlamov is almost $3 million better than Neuvirth.

Yet even in the seemingly dry, bottom line-based world of contract negotiations, it’s important to note that things can get emotional. (Even when it’s not as obvious as a brow-beaten player breaking down in tears during a salary arbitration hearing.) CSNWashington.com shares Varlamov’s Russian agent Vyacheslav Makhrenskiy’s criticisms of the Capitals, originally passed along by Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov.

On the training staff:

“Actually, there are problems with medical care in Washington. Doctors in Russia are better. It happened when the Capitals’ doctor says ‘Everything is alright, let him play.’  Semyon feels that his knee is still hurting. But he goes out to play, and then he’s injured again. And the injury is not that serious, but he couldn’t play again.”

On the contract negotiations:

“The Capitals were getting ready for the new negotiations. But they didn’t expect that Semyon could pick Russia. Washington management thought that they were in charge of the situation. But it turned out not to be the case.”

Sometimes messages get a little muffled with agents, especially in the case of Varlamov and other European players who might have one for NHL negotiations and another for overseas deals. It’s important to note that Varlamov’s departure is far from official; we’ll find out how credible these (seemingly justifiable) rumors are sometime after free agency begins at noon on Friday.

That being said, if he’s done with Washington, future reunions could be frostier than winter days in Russia (which Varlamov will seemingly need to become re-acquainted with).

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”