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.

Ehrhoff clears waivers; Jonathan Quick hurt?

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, right, stops a shot as teammate Christian Ehrhoff, of Germany, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Scott Hartnell watch during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Blue Jackets won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Christian Ehrhoff has cleared waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The Kings made the 33-year-old defenseman available yesterday. It’s expected he’ll be assigned to AHL Ontario, with 23-year-old d-man Kevin Gravel getting called up.

“Nothing wrong with Christian Ehrhoff,” coach Darryl Sutter told reporters Wednesday. “We’re not exactly world beaters here. We don’t have the best defense in the league or the best team in the league. We’re trying to get better in a hurry.”

In addition to the Ehrhoff news, goalie Peter Budaj has been added to the Kings’ roster on the NHL’s media website, meaning Jonathan Quick (reportedly “day-to-day” with an injury sustained Tuesday in Boston) could miss some time.

After acquiring Phaneuf, are Sens now gunning for Drouin?

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin waits for play to resume in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Plenty of smoke coming from the Canadian capital this week.

After landing Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf in a shock blockbuster on Tuesday, there are now reports that Ottawa’s in the mix for disgruntled Bolts forward Jonathan Drouin.

Two separate TVA reports — one from Louis Jean, one from Renaud Lavoie — suggest that Sens GM Bryan Murray is working to get Drouin out of Tampa Bay. Drouin, the third overall pick in ’13, hasn’t played hockey at all since late January, when he was suspended without pay for failing to report to games for the club’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

The Drouin-to-Ottawa move makes sense on a number of fronts:

— As Lavoie notes, Murray is always looking to “find those players who quote-unquote ‘nobody wants anymore.'” Such was the case with Kyle Turris, who was acquired by the Sens after a falling out with the Coyotes in 2011. Recently, Turris was asked about the similarities between his situation and Drouin’s, saying the time after his trade request was made public was a “tough, tough go,” but that the opportunity he received with the Sens “saved” him.

— The rumored asking price for Drouin is believed to be defenseman Cody Ceci, the former first-round pick that partnered with Phaneuf in last night’s loss to Detroit. This, too, would make sense — Ceci, 22, is in his third professional season and progressing nicely, having already matched his career-best in goals. In several ways, he’s like another rumored target in Drouin trade talks:

Mathew Dumba.

— Dumba, like Ceci, is a pending RFA still on his entry-level deal. That club controlled contract would be important for the Bolts’ financial situation. Ceci could also be a capable replacement for Lightning d-man Jason Garrison, who on Thursday was ruled out for 3-5 weeks with a lower-body injury.

And remember, Murray isn’t afraid to make splashy deals. Prior to the Phaneuf trade, he orchestrated the Bobby Ryan move with Anaheim and, a year later, traded then-captain Jason Spezza to Dallas.

Murray and Yzerman have also connected on a trade once before. In ’13, the Sens sent Ben Bishop to Tampa in exchange for Cory Conacher.

Bolts lose ‘minute-munching defenseman’ Garrison for 3-5 weeks

during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning expect defenseman Jason Garrison to miss 3-5 weeks with a lower-body injury.

Garrison was hurt in Monday’s 5-1 loss to Ottawa. The 31-year-old played just 4:10 of that game, missing the final two periods.

“That’s a tough one too, because he’s a big minute-munching defenseman for us,” coach Jon Cooper told reporters. “A big body and size.”

Garrison has just four goals and three assists in 52 games, but he’s third on the Bolts in average ice time (18:23), second in blocked shots (76), and third in hits (69).

Matt Carle replaced Garrison for Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Montreal.

Kadri fined $5K for throat slash gesture at Giordano

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs
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Nazem Kadri‘s “inappropriate gestures” on Tuesday night have left him lighter in the wallet.

On Thursday, the NHL announced that Kadri has been fined $5,000 — the maximum allowable under the CBA — for making a throat slash gesture at Mark Giordano during Calgary’s 4-3 win over the Leafs two nights ago.

The incident occurred after Kadri took exception to a heavy Giordano check. While on the bench, the Leafs forward made the gesture, one the NHL has been cracking down on since 2000.

Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.