Semyon Varlamov

Colorado’s curious way to fill goaltending needs leaves Caps GM scratching his head

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When today’s free agent frenzy began, the Colorado Avalanche began the day with no goalies to speak of on their NHL roster. With that kind of immediate shopping list to fulfill and the pickings out there fairly limited, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman had some work to do. With Tomas Vokoun set to be the biggest goaltending name on the free agent list, the Avalanche seemed poised to open up the vault for him and bring him in. Not so fast.

Instead, Sherman went in a different direction. Rather than sign Vokoun, he swung a trade with the Washington Capitals for restricted free agent goalie Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov had been making rumblings about how he was set to jump to the KHL rather than deal with the Capitals and their goaltending situation, but now he’s set to be the man in Colorado as the Avalanche signed Varlamov to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million.

The package the Avalanche gave up for Varlamov, however, is stunning: Colorado gives Washington their 2012 first round pick as well as a 2012 or 2013 second round pick. With Colorado not shaping up to be a contending team next year, that pick could turn out to be a lottery choice. The Capitals probably don’t need that kind of help to improve, but Colorado gave it to them.

Capitals GM George McPhee was perhaps the most surprised guy around at the offer for Varlamov as CSN Washington’s Ryan O’Halloran finds out.

“We were hoping to have Semyon back this year and play a full season so we could get that kind of value for him next summer because we knew we would have to do something with one of the goaltenders,” McPhee said during a briefing Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But we got that value now.

“Given the injuries, I was surprised we got it now but it was a good deal for Colorado – they got a kid who has lots of upside and if he can stay healthy, will be really good for them.”

Upside is the big thing here. Varlamov has played pretty well for Washington in his two and a half years in D.C. Varlamov has gone 30-13-12 in that time with a 2.39 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. The one major issue with Varlamov in his career has been staying healthy and not giving up the occasional soft goal. Injuries the last couple years opened the door to seeing both Jose Theodore and Michal Neuvirth to getting their fair share of starts and Neuvirth took the starting job over last season.

With that sort of track record, it’s stunning that Greg Sherman would fork over two draft picks that could turn into big time players. The 2012 draft is believed to be a very deep one and with the Avalanche potentially giving up a very high choice to Washington, they’d better hope that Varlamov can get comfortable and dominate in goal. Sherman did lock up some backup help and a mentor for Varlamov today as well in the form of Jean-Sebastien Giguere signing him to a two year contract worth $2.5 million.

The Avalanche’s plan in goal is beyond curious and the package they gave up to get Varlamov is mind-numbingly bad, especially given Varlamov’s big talk about going to the KHL. Sure, money talks and in this case it keeps him in the NHL but that kind of attitude heading into a situation where the team was as bad as they were last year you have to wonder what’s going through Varlamov’s head. McPhee says that all he wanted was the chance to be #1 unchallenged.

“There was a deal to be made,” McPhee said. “In fact, we were close last weekend. The issue really was that he wanted in his mind to be guaranteed that he’s the No. 1 guy and be paid like that and we couldn’t guarantee that with the competition we have at that position.”

The Capitals preferred to have a system for one more year that included Varlamov competing with Neuvrith and Holtby.

“You can’t really guarantee any player anything; they have to come in and prove themselves,” McPhee said. “Varly is committed to being a really good player and we said, ‘Come back and compete for it.’ He didn’t seem to want to do that and the indication was, if [the No. 1 job] wasn’t there, he was going to play in Russia for a year.”

Now Varlamov heads to Colorado where he’ll likely be the top guy as long as his play earns that status. With Giguere there as a safety net, he’s not really the guy you want starting every game, but if Varlamov suffers or gets hurt, it’s all on Giguere to try to keep the team alive. That’s a rough spot to be in from the get go. The Avs are taking a big chance on this situation and after how poorly they did last year, instead of getting a sure thing they think playing risky is how to get it done. It’s a gutsy move by Sherman to do it this way, but perhaps he’s on to something the rest of us aren’t clued in on with Semyon Varlamov.

Report: Coyotes arena financing plan in trouble

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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More bad news for the Arizona Coyotes in their quest to build a new arena and remain in the Phoenix area.

From the Arizona Republic:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

It would take at least 16 votes to pass Senate Bill 1149 in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 advantage. Statements from those lawmakers make it appear unlikely that there is enough support to move the plan to the House.

A vote before the full Senate could occur next week.

The financing plan is being championed by Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican.

“I’m not a hockey fan but I’m a business guy and I want to save any business of this magnitude from leaving and impacting thousands of jobs,” Worsley said earlier this month, per Arizona Sports. “We would go out of our way in the Legislature to see what we could do if there was a company considering leaving so it’s appropriate to say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

In light of today’s news, Worsley’s words do not bode well for the Coyotes, who have no intention of remaining in Glendale long term.

The team, still holding out hope, told the Republic, “There are a lot of moving parts in this legislative process and everything is malleable and open for discussion until the very end. We will continue to educate lawmakers about a complex project that creates a true public-private partnership and offers the Coyotes an economically viable solution to remain in the Valley for the long term.”

Related: Coyotes still ‘pretty confident’ of finding an arena solution

Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

“It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

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Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game

Blues extend Berglund — five years, $19.25 million

Patrik Berglund
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Just a few hours ago, we passed along reports that St. Louis was in extension talks with longtime forward Patrik Berglund.

Now, the deal’s done.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Berglund has signed a five-year extension worth $19.25 million. It’s a $3.85M average annual cap hit, up slightly from the $3.7M he’s making on his current deal.

Berglund, 28, was a pending UFA but made it clear he wanted to stick in St. Louis.

“I would like to still be a Blue,” Berglund said earlier this week, per the Post-Dispatch. “I think everybody in here and upstairs knows that I want to be a Blue, too.”

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, emerging as versatile forward that can play the middle or wing. He’s also found the back of the net 17 times this season, and is flirting with matching or surpassing the career-high 22 he scored back in ’10-11.

It’s a fair bit of term and financial commitment for the veteran Swede, who hasn’t cracked 40 points in six years. And there’s reason to suggest Blues fans might be irate dollars are being committed here, rather than in an effort to retain Kevin Shattenkirk.

That said, it’s not entirely surprising GM Doug Armstrong opted to retain Berglund. The Blues have undergone major changes over the last few seasons, jettisoning veterans like Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott and longtime captain David Backes.

With this new deal, Berglund will be in St. Louis through 2022. The only player signed on longer than that is Vladimir Tarasenko.

With this contract inked, attention will almost entirely focus on Shattenkirk. The pending UFA d-man is believed to be on his way out by the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

Habs need to ‘find their confidence,’ and they need to find it soon

Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien watches from the bench during the team's NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
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All of a sudden the Montreal Canadiens aren’t such a sure thing to make the playoffs.

According to Sports Club Stats, a record of 8-10-3 in their final 21 games would put them in the danger zone. And the way things have been going, you can’t rule it out.

Last night, the Habs dropped a 3-0 decision to the Islanders at Bell Centre. They’re now 7-12-2 in their last 21, and 1-2-0 since Claude Julien took over as head coach from Michel Therrien.

It wasn’t a very fun night for the home team.

From the Montreal Gazette:

The boos started with about five minutes remaining in Thursday night’s game between the Canadiens and the New York Islanders, and they would have been louder if many fans hadn’t already made a beeline for the Bell Centre exits before John Tavares’s empty-net goal put an exclamation point on the Islanders’ 3-0 victory.

Captain Max Pacioretty said he wasn’t surprised by the fans’ negative reaction.

“We haven’t played good enough,” Pacioretty said after the Canadiens’ home record in February dropped to 0-4-1. “They pay good money to come watch us play and they deserve better.”

This morning, Julien juggled the lines at practice, hoping to find some more potent combinations ahead of Saturday’s big game in Toronto. He told reporters afterwards that the team has been better defensively, but now it’s time for the offense to improve.

“I think one of the big issues is probably our neutral zone transition, which hasn’t been very good,” Julien said. “It’s gotta be quick, you gotta have some support, and then you want to cross that blue line with some speed. Teams are going to stand you up; you gotta be able to retrieve those loose pucks.”

He then added, “Our transition game is important, but also the confidence of the players. They need to find their confidence to score goals. Today, we did some drills where they had outnumbered situations and they were able to score some goals.”

The mental state of the Canadiens will certainly be worth monitoring. As everyone knows, Montreal is not an easy market when things are going poorly. Last year’s collapse demonstrated that rather well.

“The more we talk about it, the more fragile we’ll be,” Pacioretty said. “At the end of the day, we’re playing hockey and we’ve played it all our lives. Guys have to find it. I don’t think excuses are possible now, guys just have to find their game.”