could varlamov head back to russia?

(photo by Greg Fiume)

As if the Washington Capitals didn’t have enough on their plate heading down the stretch with injuries sidelining a slew of their top-end talent, some news came out yesterday afternoon that will no doubt be a topic of conversation moving forward.

Courtesy of Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports, Caps fans learned that oft-injured goalie Semyon Varlamov might not necessarily want to stick around Washington for the long haul. Here’s exactly what Chesnokov posted:

#Caps Varlamov’s Russian agent says “a few elite KHL clubs are interested in Semyon” and that Varlamov “is considering the possibility.”

Now look, I fully understand that this is simply an agent doing what an agent is supposed to do, but forgive me if it rubs me the wrong way.

The way I look at it, and the way the team’s front office has chosen to look at it, is that the Capitals have one of the deepest goaltending rotations in all of hockey with Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.

While some have foolishly suggested that the Caps would be better off trading one of them away, general manager George McPhee has gone on the record in saying he’s not interested in moving any of the talented trio.

His stance appears to be, give each of them all a chance at the starting job here in D.C. and may the best man win. And really, that’s all you can ask for if you’re a player.

Just give me a fair shot. Put the proverbial ball in my court and give me a chance to sink or swim. That way, if I don’t win the job, I only have myself to blame.

Now, everyone seems to understand that except agents. And in this case, it seems that this particular agent is mighty nervous because Neuvirth and Holtby have both excelled while Varlamov is once again sidelined thanks to the most fragile groin since Fred Taylor’s heyday.

Coming into the season, the Capitals had no clear cut choice as their top goalie. Varlamov and Neuvirth were given first crack at it and if both faltered, then the team would either have to give Holtby a try or go outside the organization to bring in a veteran.

Again, both Varlamov and Neuvirth started the season on even footing. If anything, Varlamov had a slight edge because he’d started 28 regular-season and 19 postseason games for the Capitals prior to this season compared to Neuvirth, with 19 regular-season starts and no NHL playoff experience.

But Varlamov simply cannot stay healthy for any length of time. He went a month without action (from Oct. 21 through Nov. 24) due to injury and, most recently, he’s been out of the lineup since Feb. 20 because his groin is apparently made out of gummy bears.

With less than 10 games remaining in the regular season here’s how the scorecard reads:

In 43 games, Neuvirth is 23-11-4 with a 2.42 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

In 24 games, Varlamov is 10-8-4 with a 2.27 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.

In 13 games, Holtby is 9-2-2 with a 1.95 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.

So basically, all three have done an admirable job on the ice of making their case as to why they should be “the man.”

The truth is, Holtby is still probably best suited for a little more seasoning in Hershey and unless Varlamov magically finds a way to stop hurting himself, it’s going to be tough for the Caps to consider him the long-term solution.

The front office might very well believe that Varlamov gives them the best chance to win. Coach Bruce Boudreau might truly believe Varlamov is the goalie he wants in net for a Game 7 with the season on the line.

But it’s impossible to feel good about a player who simply cannot stay healthy.

Neuvirth has been the workhorse this season and has done an admirable job in net for the Capitals while goal scoring and the powerplay have been down all season long.

He’s done nothing to suggest he shouldn’t be given first shot at back-stopping the Caps come playoff time and if he excels this postseason, then why wouldn’t he deserve the chance to lock down the job more permanently?

So Varlamov’s agent is feeling the pressure and this is how he responds. He’s basically saying, “My client reserves the right to take his ball and go home.”

He’s trying to leverage the Capitals into making promises. He’s trying to stack the deck in Varlamov’s favor.

And that’s shitty.

These are two outstandingly gifted athletes. They both possess skill sets that most kids can only dream of. They’re both only 22 and (presumably) have long careers ahead of them, either here in Washington or elsewhere.

Right about now, this feels like two kids got into a fight at the bus stop and as soon as one of them got the upper hand, the other kid’s father got involved. But make no mistake, it doesn’t make your kid (or in this case, your client) any better when you try to pin down his opponent and do his dirty work for him.

And on the subject of Varlamov heading back to Russia – playing in the KHL against over-the-hill has-beens like Jaromir Jagr or Alexei Yashin certainly isn’t going to help Varly improve his game. It’s just going to make him irrelevant.

So sit down, shut up and let this situation resolve itself the right way – on the ice. Let the two goalies make the case for themselves without agents or other outsiders trying to insert themselves into the discussion.

Seriously, is that too much to ask?


  1. David Alison
    March 24, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I think the only thing the agent was trying to do was poison the chances of Varly being traded. Right now Varly is a young guy in a strange land and if you had to pick a Russian friendly NHL club it’s the Caps.

  2. vamedic
    March 24, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Well said

  3. Ryan O'Toole
    March 24, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Props on the gummy bears comment. I still think it’s Neuvirth’s spot by right after everything he’s done for us this year, and that, although he needs more seasoning, Holtby would have been fun to watch more.

  4. AB
    March 24, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Varly’s injuries are a serious impediment to him taking the job. If he could stay healthy, I think he would win the starting job (see Neil Greenberg’s analyses).

    One comment though, we know Varly has had a knee injury the past month but you kept mocking his groin throughout the piece. Why? He does experience many groin injuries, but why not be accurate about the latest injury?

  5. Rob
    March 24, 2011 at 7:53 am

    The other interesting part is that Varly is the only goalie not signed past this season and that Neuvy was given a contract extension pretty early on too. Definitely things to ponder. Good work!

  6. IRockTheRed
    March 24, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Gotta agree with AB – Varlamov’s latest injury is his knee. He’s had multiple knee injuries (suffered one on a conditioning stint last year in Hershey that set him back past the Olympic break – and his time spent with Goaltending Legend Vladislav Tretiak during that Olympics did not help him improve, and in fact undid a lot of what Coach Irbe (who was brought in -for- Varlamov because he is fluent in Russian!) had been doing with the young netminder.

    This second knee injury also appears to be what is setting Varly back; I just hope the team is being careful with him, making him heal up completely. I don’t want to see a repeat of last season… I think, too, that when Coach Boudreau said that Wally Pipp started a game at first base, and then we all knew what happened (he was replaced by a guy named Lou Gehrig) that he was thinking that Varlamov might Wally Pipp himself out of a starting job if he’s not careful… And he seems to have almost done so.

    But I agree on the “take my ball and go home” thing. His agent might do him more harm than good right now, as we all know how much GMGM likes responding to threats…

  7. Milhouse44
    March 24, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Well said…I was hoping for another comparison today, maybe Varley to Fred Taylor.
    An athlete with chronic lower body injuries opens himself up to mocking of all lower extremities. The Groin was the injury in 2009 and 2010 and more fun to say then knee.

  8. b murf
    March 24, 2011 at 8:21 am

    You guys are aware of Varlamov’s history of groin issues, right? I mean, just because the injury-prone player happens to be out with something else at the moment doesn’t take away from the fact that his groin has been an issue since the day he came to town.

  9. AB
    March 24, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Yes, we know Varly has had several groin injuries. But he’s also had multiple knee injuries. The latest lost month of playing time was due to the knee. I guess we’d be satisfied if you mocked the groin and the knee. Just striving for 100% accuracy. Many people criticize one of the goalies in debates and I just like the discussion to stick to the facts.

    Irockthered, what are you basing your info on that Tretiak’s coaching hurt Varly? I thought he just took awhile to get back to form from being laid out with injuries so long.

  10. IRockTheRed
    March 24, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Absolutely I’m aware of Varlamov’s groin injury problems. I’m also a trained journalist, although that is not my current profession, and reporting accuracy is something I’m a pain in the butt about. Varly is not *currently* out with a groin injury. I realize this is supposed to be a humorous opinion piece, but the guy at least deserves the courtesy of accurate reporting when complaining about his injury situation…

    Besides, if he goes back to Russia, he won’t have to look at (and complain about) us fat American women any more.

  11. IRockTheRed
    March 24, 2011 at 8:38 am

    AB – he went right back to what he’d been doing at the beginning of the year. His glove wasn’t as good, and he wasn’t using the same style Irbe’d been teaching him. He didn’t even *start* to come back to form for a couple of weeks, and then he was slow doing so.

    I do think that he came back to the Irbe Way after a while, but I think he had to be uncoached a little first. I also believe that had he remained healthy this season, he’d be making a damngood case for being the #1 guy… but he didn’t.

  12. AB
    March 24, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Interesting observation, IRocktheRed. Did you notice what Varly was doing in the first game he played after being out two months right before the Olympics? He was killed in that game.

    I can’t think that playing in the KHL would be good for Varly’s career. He wouldn’t have Irbe to work with anymore, I’m not even sure they have goalie coaches for every team. When he played in the Russian league before, he worked with a goalie coach in Finland that he still works with in the off-season.

  13. Drew B
    March 24, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I don’t necessarily think its an idle threat by the agent to gain an advantage or for the Caps to commit to Varly as the starter. I think if he were healthy that Bruce would go with him more than Neuvy anyway. Bruce has always shown a preference for Varly even when Neuvy is playing lights out. Varly certainly cannot think it has ever been merely a coaches decision about his ability to stop pucks that has cost him games and or experience.

    I woud be willing to bet that there is at least a small amount of communication lost in translation here, too. Seems to me that the situation is like KHL clubs have called (and why wouldn’t they?) and there was a discussion with Varly’s agent, but I am sure he is not in conclave fretting over a decision to leave for the K, regardless of the money.

    On the other hand, if he does go to KHL, I believe we would still retain his NHL rights. There, he can gain experience (granted not a good as NHL) , get healthy (or at least get damaged beyond return). While it would sting to not get compensated for losing his services, at least we would have a decision point then if/when he decided to come back.

    Best case of leaving to KHL: He goes for a couple of years, shows he can stay healthy, dazzles over there comes back, and is either a valuable trade option or a clear cut starter.

    Worst case: He goes over there, is a disaster, continues to get hurt, Caps get nothing for him, and he cannot play here.

    In the meantime, at least you have Neuvy and Holtby in the mix putting up good numbers here.

    Of course, I really have no idea what I am talking about and this is all speculation!

  14. IRockTheRed
    March 24, 2011 at 9:04 am

    AB – I’m not an NHL goalie or goalie coach by any stretch of the imagination, but I had noticed prior to his injury that Varlamov’s technique had improved dramatically. It may have partially been the glove change that they made, but his technique was still much better than it had been. After the Olympic break, it seemed he was falling back more on old habits for a while there, and looking more like a Russian goaltender than like an Irbe-coached hybrid. I’d have to watch the clips now to tell you exactly what he did differently, but I remember noticing the difference at the time.

  15. breaklance
    March 24, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Except Varly doesn’t have the right to take his ball and go home he’s an RFA, he can not agree to the money but only the team can not agree to him, and if he does it becomes a legal fiasco between the NHL and KHL, again.

    If anything this is a combination statement of “I want to be playoff started + even though I’m injured a lot, pay me more” which is pretty much all Agent talk.

  16. j762
    March 24, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I read on one of the more reputable Caps blogs a while ago that Varly’s injuries are likely attributable to his explosiveness. He just moves so hard and puts so much stress on his joints. This seems to me to be something that can be handled with coaching, meaning that perhaps Varly has some relatively injury-free seasons ahead of him.

  17. Ex KiwiKrol
    March 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    It’s just “Human Behavior”, Neuvirth’s inner Bjork does not approve. (Or does)

    If you ever get close to a human
    And human behaviour
    Be ready to get confused
    There’s definitely no logic
    To human behaviour

  18. Krol2
    March 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I want a t-shirt with “team neuvy” and “team holtby” squares to check. Varly done checked himself out.

    And yes he has playoff experience. With how many game 7’s?

  19. DC FURY
    March 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    This article was awesome. I totally agree with everything that was said, and it was all articulated brilliantly (I laughed out loud at the “my client reserves the right to take his ball and go home” line). Varly Is awesome and I don’t think anyone is here to deny that. The only problem is Neuvy and Holtby are awesome too, and they have been more reliable in the health department too. Now Varly has been given the upper hand for some time because he was drafted earlier, but the playing field has evened out now and this is his agent’s way of acknowledging that. If this is how Varly chooses to play it that’ll really suck, but let’s hope he stays and earns his spot instead of just quitting the team and taking the easy way out with the KHL.

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