While anything can happen in the NHL off-season – the last four days’ worth of trades should be evidence of that – the rumors of Semyon Varlamov’s likely departure from the Washington Capitals continue to build. Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov reported as much on Twitter today, saying that the young Russian netminder is “unlikely to re-sign” with the Capitals.
Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby give the Capitals a respectable duo of young goalies anyway, so perhaps they don’t feel the need to spend big on Varlamov. The latest rumors indicate that Varlamov could make as much as $4 million per season if he flees to the KHL, but there also is the possibility that another NHL team might try to snatch him up with an offer sheet the Capitals would rather not match once July 1 rolls around. (Varlamov is a restricted free agent, which might reduce his options but cannot stop him from leaving for Russia.)
While the Capitals must be happy to have Neuvirth and Holtby as options, they would probably prefer to keep Varlamov in an ideal world. Injuries limited Varlamov to just 27 games played in 2010-11, but he still put up strong numbers. (His 11-9-5 record wasn’t very good but his individual stats set new career-highs: .924 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA.)
Varlamov has shown flashes of brilliance in his short time with the big club – particularly when he saved the day after Jose Theodore floundered in the 2009 playoffs – but the sample size is small enough that such a significant raise just doesn’t make sense for Washington. He only played in 59 games in his NHL career, going 30-13-12 with a 2.39 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Neuvirth didn’t seem particularly fazed by postseason pressure – a great quality to have on a team that receives frequent knee-jerk reactions about “choking” – but my gut instinct is to say that Varlamov might be a bit more talented. That being said, Neuvirth will make just $1.15 million per year for the next two seasons with the potential to produce comparable (if not superior) results than Varlamov. Instead of taking a gamble on giving Varlamov a big raise, Washington could also opt for a more proven veteran if they elect to spend big money in net. (Tomas Vokoun, perhaps?)
It would be a shame to see Varlamov become something like the goaltending equivalent of former Nashville Predators forward Alex Radulov by jumping to the KHL for more short-term money, but it seems like that is a significant possibility. Stay tuned as this situation develops while the free agent frenzy approaches on Friday.