In Semyon We Trust
Is it really that far fetched to consider the coming season for the Colorado Avalanche one of interminable success with the signing of Semyon Varlamov?
For many, the answer would be a resounding yes. What can you expect from a 23-year-old Russian goaltender who has failed to play over 27 games in a single NHL season? I’d start with stats, however misleading they may really be. In six games during his first taste of the big time in 2008-09, Varlamov managed to stop 146 of 159 regular season shots. Then he marched into the postseason, stole the starting job from Jose Theodore after one bad game, and stopped 357 out of 389, finishing his playoff run 7-6 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average.
His next two seasons, despite injury, were equally as terrific and saw the young prodigy continue to leave his mark with the Washington Capitals. Still, that was it; he had been labeled “injury prone” and now must prove to everyone otherwise. In a recent interview with Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov, Varlamov briefly mentioned this topic.
With these types of nagging injuries common in the NHL, it would be safe to assume that they were the result of playing through an initial problem. This is typical with most players, but imagine the pressure on a goaltender to be the go-to guy each night. Given the way that Varlamov usurped the throne from Theodore, he most likely pushed through some issues, creating complications in the long run. Still, having played his last game on April 6th Varlamov should be more than healthy enough come training camp and the season’s open.
Consider that the young Russian is a fan of the Avalanche, not unlike burgeoning center Matt Duchene, and that his desire to play in Denver is stronger than in other cities. Would that sway your opinion any?
“My agent called me and said there is a possibility to go to Denver,” Varlamov told Chesnokov. “I replied that we cannot lose this chance. Avalanche is one of my favorite teams in the NHL. And then when the free agent market opened Washington and Colorado made the trade happen.”
Players almost always succeed with the teams they desire to play for – the exception obviously being LeBron James. But it isn’t as if Capitals General Manager George McPhee was thrilled about letting Varlamov leave Washington even if it was for a first and second round draft pick. “I really didn’t want to do it, but he’d indicated that was going to go… and I started to think of different scenarios where we could end up with nothing for him,” McPhee said to NHL.com Analyst E.J. Hradek in a recent interview. “Colorado and four other teams were interested and it just came together pretty quick.”
“It was a good move for Colorado,” McPhee said on a July 1 conference call.
And with all of the talk about how Varlamov was demanding the number one goaltending position on any team, it appears that he was ultimately misrepresented. He has frequently talked about how he has to earn his right to start. “An athlete shouldn’t be afraid of competition. To me it [Giguere] is yet another challenge,” Varlamov told Chesnokov. “I will do everything to become Colorado’s number one goaltender. This is my goal that I can state publicly.”
Independent goalie scout Justin Goldman elaborated a bit on Varlamov’s technique in a recent post on The Goalie Guild.
“He’s constantly busting at the seams with energy and explosiveness. Every push from post-to-post looks like he’s being launched out of a cannon, yet he still has the sharp footwork to stop on a dime and set his feet for shots. He’s aggressive with his positioning and has a fierce focus in his eyes, yet still displays plenty of grace.”
Goldman later added, “Varlamov is still one of the most skilled 23-year old goalies in the world.”
So what if he cost two draft picks just to negotiate with? The team can’t rebuild through the draft forever. The guy has tremendous upside, valuable growth potential, a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, and he is excited about playing in Colorado. His play this season will likely mirror that of Craig Anderson when he first came to town, before he quit on the Avs. Really though, none of this matters.
It doesn’t matter because it couldn’t get much worse from last season. The Colorado Avalanche finished second to last in the entire NHL. They managed to win the franchise’s second lottery draft pick in the history of the team – the first having come two years prior. They shipped off large contracts, regardless of the on-ice product that would be leaving. Fans suddenly found themselves depending on Peter Budaj yet again, while poor Brian Elliott unfortunately came in to a deflated team and still couldn’t win a job.
Things are different now. Varlamov will have healthy goalie competition from a veteran in Jean-Sebastien Giguere. More than half of the defensive lineup from last season has been changed and is now stronger and meaner. The offense, which was great to start, has presumably been shored up. There is no reason to expect that Varlamov, with a refreshed team in front of him, can’t succeed. With expectations at an all time low from last season, have a little faith. Varlamov shouldn’t have to do much to prove that black days in Denver have fallen by the wayside. Phase I of the rebuild is complete. Phase II? Develop and compete.
What do you think? Do you trust Varlamov or are you worried?