Goalie Analysis: Semyon Varlamov

I had already begun compiling data for this before he was traded so I figured I should just go through with it to get a better view on how Varlamov’s season went. It could also give some insight on some of the things that Varly was able to do when he was healthy as well as give Avs fans some insight on their new goalie. In other words, I did all the work already and want to do this so let’s roll along. I will have one for Tomas Vokoun next, though.

When the Caps coaching staff had to make a decision on which goalie to start for the playoffs, there were many fans divided on who they wanted to see in net. In one corner, there was Michal Neuvirth, who I looked at a few days ago, and he showed that he can be the goalie that can make all of the saves you need to but he hasn’t shown that he can be a top-tier goalie just yet. However, he had started most of the year and did a solid job at it so the job remained his. Then there’s the guy who sat out over 60% of the year but had a better save percentage and playoff experience in previous years. There were a strong group of people who wanted Varly to get the start at game 1 (or at some point) in the playoffs and when looking at his performance this year, you can see why. It really makes you wonder what his season could have been like had he been healthy for an entire year.

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Varlamov is gone, now what?

Not anymore, Varly

The writing has been on the wall for awhile now but Semyon Varlamov has reportedly signed a contract with SKA of the KHL. Varly will apparently make $4 mil per season on this contract. This is pretty bad news for the Caps in general because Varlamov is very important to this team moving forwards. I said this in his player report card, but he had what was probably his best season in the NHL last year but he wasn’t the starter because he was hurt all the time and Michal Neuvirth played well enough to keep the job. This isn’t a knock on Neuvirth at all because he is a very good goaltender but one of the Capitals strengths was having two very talented goalies on the roster and they made a very reliable tandem. Now one half of that tandem is gone and the Caps are going to have to decide if they have complete confidence in Neuvirth as the starter (and judging from their decision to start him throughout the playoffs they do) or look to find a back-up or a #2 goalie.

Money and playing time appear to be the main reasons why Varlamov left. Varly wanted to be a #1 goalie and injuries prevented him from being one and the Caps can’t give $4 mil a year to a goalie who has yet to start more than 30 games in an NHL season so letting him go appeared to be the only option. The fact that the Caps let him go with nothing in return demonstrates poor asset management but their hands were tied by this situation. Varlamov will be missed, but it’s time to move on. What do we do with our goaltending next year? Sign a free agent to back-up or compete with Neuvirth or call up Braden Holtby full-time to be the back-up.

Some possible free agents we could sign if we’re looking for a true back-up are Alex Auld, Mathieu Garon, Peter Budaj or Ty Conklin. All four will not ask for much money and they are not bad goalies when you know that you have a #1 in front of them. Whether or not Neuvirth is a true #1 is up in the air to me, though. He could be Steve Mason or he could be Ryan Miller for all I know but if he is the former then finding another cheap young goalie to compete with him would be an option. Josh Harding is the name that keeps popping up in my head when I think of who we could target there. The thing is, if we’re going to go that route then we might as well just call-up Braden Holtby but I’d like to see him have another full-season in Hershey.

This is a situation I hoped we wouldn’t have to be in this season but as I said earlier, many saw this coming for a long time. Hopefully for the Caps, Neuvy can play as well as he did in the playoffs and the first month of the season on a more consistent basis.

Capitals Report Card: Semyon Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov

Stats: 25 GP, 11-9-5, .924 save pct. 2.23 GAA, 2 SO, .930 EV SV%,
Contract Info: $821, 667 cap hit, pending RFA

Much of the Caps off-season turmoil has been centered around their young Russian goalie (and pending RFA) Semyon Varlamov and whether or not he will return to Washington to battle for the starting job or go to the KHL where he will likely have a chance to be a starter and earn a lot more money while doing so. I am someone who believes that you do not need to spend big money on goaltenders unless you’re getting a proven elite goalie or someone you can count on to keep your team in every game (Tomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist come to mind), so I do not think George McPhee needs to break the bank when offering Varly a new contract. However, if Varlamov leaves and the Caps get nothing in return, I will not be happy because I still maintain that he is the best goalie the Caps have and the season he just had only strengthens my opinion.

Varlamov’s season began on the injured reserve list, a place he is more familiar with than we would like to be, and he ended up losing his starting job to Michal Neuvirth as a result. When Varlamov was healthy, he played like he was the better goalie and I still say that he wasn’t the starting goalie in the playoffs because he was injured for a good portion of the season and Neuvirth played well enough to keep the job. I know it’s with a small sample size, but this tandem has given the Capitals some of the best goaltending they’ve seen in awhile in their (roughly) two years in Washington.  Last season, Varlamov set career bests in save percentage and GAA after having somewhat of a down season in 2009-10. His record may have been only 11-9-5 but I have always considered wins somewhat of a meaningless stat for goaltenders because Varlamov played well in most of the games that he didn’t win, especially his 30+ save performances against Tampa Bay where the team was shutout twice. Looking at his game log, you’ll see only two disastrous starts (@NYR and ANA) there surrounded by solid performances in just about every other game. This article does a good job at detailing the lack of goal support that Varly has gotten compared to Neuvirth, hence why he has a worse record than him.

As I stated earlier, Varlamov’s durability is what’s keeping him from being the starting goaltender for the Capitals. He was bothered by a groin injury for almost the entire season and missed nearly all of October, November and March and even needed to make a few conditioning starts in Hershey because of it. It was also what kept him from starting in the playoff that and Neuvirth not being to blame at all for any of the losses against Tampa Bay but it should be noted that Varlamov was lights out against Tampa Bay this season with a .949 save percentage and one shutout against them, so I think starting him would have been at least worth a shot when the team was down 0-2 heading into Game 3.

When it comes to giving Varly a new contract, I feel that his ceiling should be $2 mil per year because he hasn’t shown that he can play a full-season but he has shown that he can play great when given the chance and that’s what most young goalies need to do if they want to stay in the league. It’s a shame that he was hampered with injuries again because he improved in just about every category compared to last season so I’m giving him a B here. The door is still open for Varly to be the starter in DC but he has to earn it and be willing to take a significant paycut compared to what he might get in Russia (I’ve heard $4-4.5 mil per year thrown around). McPhee has made his stance clear on how he feels about the situation and so has Varly so I hope the two of them can come to an agreement in a couple weeks having Varlamov is very important to this team and we can not let him leave for nothing.

Corey Crawford signs new contract

The Chicago Blackhawks recently signed rookie goaltender Corey Crawford to a 3-year contract extension worth $8 million, equaling a cap hit of about $2.6 million. This news has Washington Capitals fans worried about what kind of contract Semyon Varlamov will receive this summer, or if he will get one at all. Crawford and Varlamov are both rookie goalies at the end of their entry-level contracts and have plenty of NHL experience.  The majority of people (including me) believe that Varly will probably not receive more than the $1.25 mil per season that Michal Neuvirth will make the next couple of seasons. However, there are others who see him making a lot more than that because he’s a former first round pick and a higher ceiling than Neuvirth, which is why Crawford getting $8 mil over 3 seasons worries Caps fans. Let’s dig a little deeper to show why people shouldn’t worry so much.

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