|Who will be instrookting young Semyon next season?|
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.