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Capitals trade Semyon Varlamov to Avalanche for picks; Colorado gives him two-year deal

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For those who expected Semyon Varlamov to be KHL-bound, the Colorado Avalanche just said “not so fast.” The goalie-needy team traded their 2012 first round pick and a conditional second round pick to the Washington Capitals for estranged netminder Varlamov.

Now, it’s important to note that the Avs still need to actually sign Varlamov to a contract, so it’s not guaranteed that the Russian goalie will stick with the NHL. That being said, when you consider the enormous price the Avalanche paid merely to negotiate with Varlamov, it would be very surprising if they couldn’t get the job done.

Update: Gord Miller reports that Varlamov signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal. Miller compares it to Carey Price’s deal with Montreal. It’s a pretty affordable cap hit for Varly, especially when there were rumors that he wanted $4 million per year. That’s not a bad contract after the Avalanche gave up such big assets to get him.

How the Varlamov trade and other moves might affect the goalie market

This trade brings some interesting implications to the goalie market. The Phoenix Coyotes probably decided their top goalie by reuniting former Dallas Stars goalie Mike Smith with former Stars coach Dave Tippett, especially since they already signed Jason LaBarbera to be a backup. The Florida Panthers might have filled their opening with Jose Theodore, but who knows what they might do with Dale Tallon in wheels-off mode. It seemed like top remaining free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun and the Avalanche would be on a crash course for an arranged marriage, but this trade obviously changes that.

Varlamov’s athleticism works for the Avs … but what about his mindset?

Again, the Avalanche still need to sign Varlamov, but the prospects of Vokoun being their man seem low now. Interestingly enough, I haven’t been sold on Vokoun in Colorado because I wonder if the aging veteran possesses the athleticism to cover up the wide-open team’s many mistakes. Vokoun carried weak teams with great individual numbers over the years, but he played behind conservative systems in Nashville and Florida.

Varlamov could be an interesting study if he ends up in Colorado, though. On one hand, Varly is the type of athletic goalie who can make the acrobatic saves required by a defensive group that springs a lot of leaks. At the same time, Varlamov doesn’t have much of a track record as an NHL goalie; can he handle the ups and downs of playing on a young, flawed team like the Avalanche?

We’ll keep you up to date about his negotiations with the Avalanche and other developments in the free agent goalie market.

Capitals make the best of the Varlamov predicament

In the mean time, the Capitals must feel great about the situation. Just about everyone in the league knew that Varlamov wouldn’t re-sign with Washington. Yet instead of losing him for nothing to the KHL, the Capitals will receive two high-end draft picks for their troubles. That 2012 first round pick could be pretty nice if Colorado struggles again – the Avalanche received the second pick in the 2011 draft, after all – and Washington will receive a conditional second rounder to boot. TSN revealed that the Capitals will be able to choose whether that second round pick will be the Avs’ 2012 or 2013 choice.

Washington can now go cheap with Michal Neuvirth-Braden Holtby or combine Neuvirth with a veteran goalie. There’s probably a part of that team that wishes they could keep Varlamov, but seeing that dead end ahead, they pulled out a masterful deal.

Conclusions

If the Avalanche land Varlamov and he actually works out for them (never a guarantee), then this could be an “everyone wins” type deal. Colorado would get their much-needed young goalie, Varlamov might get the kind of deal he wants and be able to stay in the NHL and the Capitals would get a nice package for a goalie they wanted but didn’t need.

There are plenty of “ifs” in that situation, though, so Washington is the only big winner so far. Stay tuned to find out what happens for the other two parties.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.