Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Case for Trading Semyon Varlamov

Who will be instrookting young Semyon next season?
This offseason, decisions will be made.  There is no doubt about that.  Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time.  As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.

Among the restricted free agents will be Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has been a fan favorite since his magical playoffs in 2009. Varlamov, as usual, was a stud when he was actually able to strap on the pads, racking up a 2.23 GAA and .924 Save% to go along with two shutouts in 27 games.
The key words in that paragraph, of course, are "when he was able to strap on the pads."  Varly struggled through more injuries this year, being sidelined with groin and knee injuries for the second year in a row.  When he is healthy, however, there is no doubt that he is number one goaltender in terms of talent.
Before I go on, I would like to outline the difference between a restricted and unrestricted free agent.  Unrestricted free agents are literally that; they have the ability to sign anywhere they want once the market opens.  Restricted free agents do not have this ability; teams retain their rights until they are 27 or they have 7 years of NHL experience.  This allows teams to trade the rights to their RFA's in order to maximize return on players who they won't be able to keep or don't "have room for" (used lightly) before this period expires.
As such, if I were George McPhee, I would look long and hard about shopping Varlamov and getting a pick or a prospect in return.  First, he is not likely to accept a one year contract; he has indicated that he wants a long-term deal (though he wants to be in Washington).  For an injury prone goalie like Varly, that is too big of a risk to take, and it tells Michal Neuvirth that the organization favors the Russian, which we certainly don't want.
Second, he is no longer the teams' number one option on goal.  I love him.  Most Caps fans do.  But this year, he was passed on the depth chart by Michal Neuvirth.  Neuvy got better all season and earned the playoff nod; regardless of Varlamov's contract status, it is almost a sure bet that Neuvirth will be in goal for the Caps' season opener in early October.
Finally, Washington has this third guy in the farm system.  His name is Braden Holtby, perhaps you have heard of him.  He's, like, really good, and stuff, and scouts say that he might be better than Neuvirth or Varlamov in time.  He is ready to be an NHL backup and to learn at the professional level.
So the question becomes this: do you trade the de facto number one, the injury prone backup, or the young(est) stud who could be better than them all?  To me the answer is obvious.  If Washington keeps Varlamov, they "risk" him establishing himself as the number one again.  How do you justify trading you number one goalie to a fan base?  You can't.  Then you are forced to trade Neuvirth or Holtby.  That eliminates your most consistent goalie over the last season and a half, who has been a rock in terms of health, or someone who is younger, fitter, and potentially the best.  Sigh.

All of this is not meant to condemn Varly, who is my favorite goalie and my second favorite Cap.  But the reality of the situation is that one of the three has to go at some point, and the decision will only get harder from here on out. Varlamov is good enough to get a solid return now at a position of ridiculous depth within the organization.  As much as it pains me to say it, the time has come.  I will turn away and hide the tears.

Who would you trade?  Or would you string Varly along?  Let me know below.


  1. I would keep him. In fact, if we keep him, I promise I will feed him and give him water and walk him and clean up after him everyday. PLEASE George/Ted/Jesus!

  2. I'm with you, Harry. I think Varlamov is a superb talent with brittle groin syndrome. For a goaltender that's the kiss of death. He'll be a brilliant backup for some other team before he's number one for the Caps. Too bad he picked that new number, because it is the farthest from his place on anyone's depth chart.

  3. Easy answer, he needs to be dealt. Like you, he is my fave goalie as well. But the handwriting is on the wall - he is a victim of 2 things: his own inability to remain healthy and Neuvy's success once given an opening, and he took full advantage of it.
    So what value will Varly attract? Likely plenty. A young goalie with excellent stats and also some playoff experience. His trade value should give plenty of options for GMG and BB to acquire needed presence in other areas the team will likely fall short in retaining (Laich). The team has some talent down on the farm in Hershey, but time to develop them into the NHL from AHL may not be as easy as it was for MoJo, Carlson and Alzner. Remember, while Knubs and Chimera are vet presences, their age is creeping higher every day towards the end of the line. Varly's value to quality teams outside our conference could pay large dividends.

  4. Psh, I trade Neuvirth while the getting is good. I don't know what goaltender people were watching all year, but it must have been someone different. Of all the goalies, he had the worst stats. You also have it wrong, he got worse throughout the year. His best month was October, and things went downhill from there. Neuvy is Theodore 2.0. Compare their stats, compare the percentage of games where they allowed three or more goals. I live in Pittsburgh, and they do not exactly love our boys in red. You know what they all love to see? Stories about keeping Boudreau as coach and Neuvirth as starting goalie. That should be enough, even if you don't take the time to look at the individual stats (as I have). If Varly stays healthy, he should be our man. If he can't, Holtby.

  5. Obviously Varly has a higher ceiling. Varlamov is an elite talent when he's healthy, but he's never stayed healthy for an entire season at ANY level, what makes you think he will next year? Varly was healthy for the playoffs, and he didn't play because neuvirth was better.
    As for your statement that Neuvirth is "theo 2.0" that is an incredibly misguided and ignorant statement to make. theo is a reflexes goalie who is small and technically poor but gets away with it because he is a freak athlete. Neuvy's technique is impeccable and he's 22 years old, he's only going to get better with no apparent health issues.

  6. for all intents and purposes, 30 and 70 are the exact same type of goalie.