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.

A best on best mythical tournament: 30-and-over

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of Washington Capitals
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under and players in their prime.

Connor McDavid and other exciting young players have taken part of the spotlight, but Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin remain the most prominent faces in the NHL. The next roster to enter this mythical best on best tournament consists of players 30-years-of-age-and-over. It has several of the League’s most accomplished players, including numerous skaters with multiple Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals.

Line Combinations

First line: Alex Ovechkin – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Kane

Thoughts: Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen out of the limelight in recent years after an era of dominance that included three championships. However, Kane has remained one of the most productive players in the NHL and the thought of his on-ice vision combined with Ovechkin’s blistering slapshot strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. Crosby has the wisdom and skill to balance this line to formulate a trio only used in a video game environment.

Second line: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronBlake Wheeler

Thoughts: The Bruins have had the most complete line in hockey and two/thirds of that trio reside here. Blake Wheeler has the offensive punch coupled with strong defensive instincts to fill the void left by David Pastrnak. This line will be relied upon to matchup with skilled lines from opponents but also will need to contribute on the offensive side of the ice.

Third line: Claude GirouxEvgeni MalkinJakub Voracek

Thoughts: Malkin has been one of the top centermen since bursting onto the scene in 2006-07 and should bring out the best from his new linemates. Giroux and Voracek each took a step backwards in terms of offensive production this season, but the Flyers have emerged as legitimate Cup contenders in Alain Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in Philadelphia. The effectiveness of this line will determine how far this team could advance in the competition.

Fourth line: Jamie BennAnze KopitarT.J. Oshie

Thoughts: Is there anything else a coach could want in his fourth line? A two-time Selke Trophy winner flanked by a power forward and a skilled winger with defensive awareness? This line will start in the defensive zone majority of the time and be needed to flip momentum of the game within the game.

First D pairing: Mark GiordanoJohn Carlson
Second D pairing: Zdeno CharaDrew Doughty
Third D pairing: Ryan McDonaghAlex Pietrangelo

Thoughts: The absence of Shea Weber is jarring at first, but what attribute is missing from this defensive group? The biggest question facing this collection of rearguards is, do they have the foot speed to keep up with the quickness each team in this tournament possesses?

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Backup Goalie: Ben Bishop

Just Missed: Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber

Captain: Sidney Crosby

Alternate captains: Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin

Analysis

The biggest advantage this team has over the competition is experience. Over half of the roster has a Stanley Cup championship under their belt and several players earned multiple championship rings in their respective careers.

Leadership will not be an issue with nine current NHL captains to help this team manage the emotions through this highly competitive tournament.

One area of concern is the speed of the game throughout the competition. Can the defense move the puck up the ice in a timely manner? Can the veteran forwards play at this pace each shift without sacrificing production? This team will be expected to play smart situational hockey and take advantage of special teams opportunities, but can they win even-strength matchups on a consistent basis?

There is an abundance of talent and wisdom up and down the lineup, but will they be able to dictate the pace and play the style they choose, or will they be forced to adapt to the opponents’ preferred style?

The answer to that question will determine how successful this team will be in this imaginary Best on Best tournament.

Surprising omissions

Phil Kessel: He was originally slated to skate alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the second line, but he doesn’t play a strong two-way game that his linemates would have demanded on a consistent basis. It was tough to leave a pure goal scorer like Kessel off the list, but his effectiveness is diminished if not playing in an offensive oriented role.

Steven Stamkos: The captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is probably the most prolific player left off any roster in this tournament to date, but it was tough to find a spot for the skilled center. Crosby and Bergeron were no-brainers for this team, but the debate was between him and Malkin for the third line slot. The size and strength of the Russian forward were the deciding factors as that toughness will be needed throughout the tournament.

Shea Weber: He could easily slide into any spot along the blueline and the team likely wouldn’t suffer but tough decisions had to be made. The roster is not lacking in the leadership department and the three right-handed shot defensemen selected have the speed needed to keep up with the blazing speed of the competition.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Martinez clinches Cup for Kings

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NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour continues this week with matchups featuring unsung heroes.

In a role similar to one he played in the 2014 Western Conference Final victory over the Blackhawks, Alec Martinez of the Kings played hero for Los Angeles in Game 5 of the Cup Final, scoring the game-winner in double overtime to defeat the Rangers 3-2 and clinch the Cup.

Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire called the Stanley Cup action from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Thursday, April 9
• NHL: Pause and Rewind (Encore) – 5 p.m. ET
• Rangers vs. Kings (2014 Stanley Cup Final, Game 5, Alec Martinez) – 6 p.m. ET

NBC Sports commentators conducting player interviews and sharing #HockeyAtHome social content will also be featured throughout the program.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

Long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Canadiens don’t have a lot of players locked up to much term. That seems like a plus, because the bigger contracts also happen to be Montreal’s biggest headaches.

Apologies to Carey Price after already critiquing his 2019-20 season, but you can only be so delicate about his situation. Price has already shown some troubling signs of fatigue at 32. His $10.5 million AAV is frightening now, yet it carries through 2025-26, with a no-movement clause to boot.

Shea Weber didn’t suffer a career-ending injury as feared, yet there’s no denying that he’s banged up. One wonders if the 34-year-old is fated for LTIR; otherwise, his $7.86M AAV (also through 2025-26) could become quite burdensome.

Jonathan Drouin breaks the trend of older players receiving term, but there are already rumors about the 25-year-old getting moved out before his deal ($5.5M AAV) expires (after 2022-23).

Looking at the Habs’ agreed-upon core is a chore. The more interesting questions revolve around who else might be a part of it.

The Canadiens don’t face that many long-term contract decisions this offseason, but pending RFA Max Domi is a key one. Can they find the right price and term for the speedy but flawed forward?

There are some other interesting mid-career players to consider.

Marc Bergevin balked on trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry, two players whose contracts expire after 2020-21. Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault stand out as other noteworthy pieces who need new deals after 2020-21, too. Who stays and who goes?

Granted, a lot of that revolves around how much progress Montreal’s promising prospects make.

Long-term needs for Canadiens

Look, it’s not going to be pleasant for the Canadiens to pay a backup goalie a handsome fee. Not when they already allot $10.5M in cap space to Price.

Yet it seems like Montreal’s committed to at least hovering around the playoff bubble with Bergevin and Claude Julien running the show. Why wouldn’t you try to ease Price’s burden and get a Plan B when the market could include borderline starters like Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and old pal Jaroslav Halak?

Getting some saves would go a long way. So would finishing more chances.

For another year, Montreal clearly suffered for its lack of snipers. This team can hog the puck at five-on-five, and create havoc with skilled forwards. They just don’t really have a ton of players who finish, something that surfaces for a power play that finds itself snakebitten far too often.

The Canadiens could certainly use more NHL-ready help on defense. That’s another question filed under “How ready are these prospects?”

Perhaps more than anything else, the Canadiens need vision.

So far, Montreal’s been trying to build for the future while staying in contention. The first part’s gone pretty well, but the Canadiens have settled for not-quite-good-enough. Are they hurting their chances of having a higher ceiling by trying to prosper now and later? Should they at least do a Rangers-style mini-reboot, selling off the likes of Tatar, Petry, and Drouin (and maybe even Gallagher)?

Oh yeah, and how much would it take to compete in an Atlantic Division featuring the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs?

The answers are tough to come by, but Bergevin & Co. need to soul search on such topics.

Long-term strengths for Canadiens

Again, the Canadiens’ farm system looks pretty good. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked them second overall in February (sub required), and that’s while “graduating” the likes of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Cole Caulfield could indeed parallel Alex DeBrincat as a near-instant draft steal, as many wondered about the spritely sniper.

I wonder if that group could still use the added “oomph” that would have come with a tanktastic, premium high draft pick, but it’s heartening for Montreal overall.

Bergevin’s also seemingly learned from how much the Price contract boxed the Canadiens in by not signing many other long-term deals. The uncertainty translates to flexibility.

Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin went in-depth on the Canadiens’ salary cap opportunities recently (sub required). If the pause squeezes the cap flat, Montreal could take advantage of teams in “salary cap prison.” They could also exploit a free agent situation that may thus be low on buyers. There’s also the possibility that Bergevin could send out more offer sheets.

Bergevin’s patience could pay off … if he makes the right moves.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers say Colby Cave remains in medically induced coma

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TORONTO — Edmonton Oilers forward Colby Cave remains in a medically induced coma in a Toronto hospital after suffering a brain bleed earlier in the week.

The Oilers, through Cave’s family, provided an update on Cave’s status Thursday on their Twitter account.

”This is giving his brain time to heal & rest from all he’s been through,” the team wrote in the post.

The 25-year-old native of Battleford, Saskatchewan, was airlifted Tuesday to Sunnybrook Hospital and underwent emergency surgery. Doctors removed a colloid cyst that was causing pressure on his brain.

Cave’s wife, Emily, posted an update on Instagram on Wednesday after seeing him through a window with his parents and talking to him via a walkie-talkie.

”My heart is shattered into a million pieces without my best friend,” she wrote.

Emily Cave said the family is no longer allowed to be in the hospital because of COVID-19 rules. She said they have no idea when they will be allowed to see him again.

Cave scored one goal in 11 games with Edmonton this season. He has four goals and five assists over 67 NHL games with Boston and Edmonton.