Semyon Varlamov had one of his legs in the KHL just days before the July 1 free agent market, figuratively speaking. On the day his Russian agent spoke unfavorably about the Washington Capitals, Varlamov was on his way to North America to start his preseason workouts with a conditioning coach, who, according to Semyon, has a lot of experience coaching NFL, MLB and NHL players.
Varlamov's return ticket was for July 19, one day before SKA St Petersburg, the KHL club he was set to join, will open their summer training camp. He was set to leave for the KHL.
But sometime between that day and July 1, Varlamov's agent called him and said the Capitals would trade him to the Colorado Avalanche after July 1. Varlamov was excited about it as he wanted a change, a new start.
He kept quiet and didn't speak with the media until he was officially presented by the Avalanche as their new acquisition. Soon after, he gave this exclusive interview to Puck Daddy.
Q. Semyon, why didn't you sign a new contract with the Capitals? How were the negotiations going?
VARLAMOV: They started after the New Year. I didn't agree to all the offers from the Capitals, who wanted to sign me to 2-3 years. I wasn't satisfied with various contract options. In the end this issue dragged until the summer. I was calm about this situation. I thought about hockey. I spoke with my American agent Paul Theofanous. He kept telling me 'Everything is OK, you won't be without a contract.' I only focused on the game.
When did you realize that you wouldn't be able to come to terms with Washington?
Towards the end of the season I thought 'I need a change in my career.' There was no contract that I needed. I just wasn't satisfied with the offers in their entirety. Three seasons with the Capitals turned out to be not the easiest. From time to time I kept having small injuries. I wanted to start the season with new energy, a fresh start.
Did you ask for a trade?
There were some talks about it. But Washington then weren't going to trade me. When I realized that I started keeping a thought in my head of going to one of the clubs in the KHL. But ideally, I wanted to stay in the NHL. My dream is to play in this league. To come back to Russia at 23 years of age is too early.
Why did Ted Leonsis say the Capitals "were disappointed in [Varlamov's] manner during the negotiations?"
I don't think everything that Leonsis wrote in his blog should be discussed. Let it be on his conscience. I will refrain from comments. I will only tell you that I have a great relationship with Ted. I am thankful to Washington for a lot of things. My NHL career started in this club. I was counted on there to be the number one goaltender. I felt the support from the management, fans. But I couldn't show myself from the best side. The best moment was 2009, when we played two rounds in the Stanley Cup [playoffs] and I played in goal. Then everything was a lot more difficult. But I gain a lot of experience that will certainly help me in the future.
How did this option with KHL's SKA came up?
Why this team necessarily? I was considering offers from Lokomotiv, from SKA, there were also other options in the KHL. SKA's biggest plus was that Jussi Parkkila is the goaltending coach there. I really wanted to work with this specialist, who has been working with me for the last four years and really helped me in the development of my career. I think the day Parkkila come over to North America and work in the NHL is not far away.
Maybe you can bring him over to Denver?
It would be my pleasure to do that. It's not the easiest thing to do. But agents and I will try to make it happen.
Is it true that you agreed to play for SKA?
I cannot answer this question.
OK. At the time Lokomotiv and SKA were battling it out in the KHL, Colorado traded for you.
An unbelievable turn of events! Everything happened very quickly. My agent called me and said there is a possibility to go to Denver. 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. And right away without thinking I signed a contract for three years.
Three? Initially it was reported as a two-year deal.
I don't know where this rumor came from. Someone started this rumor
And why was this deal kept such a secret? You didn't tell either your father or your Russian agent about it.
I didn't even think of hiding anything. But I made a decision and didn't listen to anyone. I just put my signature on the contract. And then I told everyone.
Right after that Avalanche acquired JS Giguere. Was this a bad surprise for you? He is a good competitor.
I knew that Colorado was looking for a top class goalie. Giguere is very experienced; he won the Cup four years ago. He can give a lot of advice. People like him are always important in any team.
An athlete shouldn't be afraid of competition. To me it is yet another challenge. I will do everything to become Colorado's number one goaltender. This is my goal that I can state publically.
Did you speak with Ovechkin or Semin after the trade?
Unfortunately, no. I think no one knows my new phone number yet. So no one could get a hold of me. [Varlamov laughed]
But Ovechkin was in Colorado the day you had your press conference there.
Really? I didn't know about that. I would have of course talked with him. Although I had very little time. I came to Denver for half a day, spoke to the media and went to the airport right away.
Are you bothered by the fact that the Avalanche don't have a full time goalie coach?
Is this good information? I heard that Kirk McLean works there full time.
It is good information from a Denver source.
Well… I don't know what our work will be like. But I hope Colorado will work with goaltenders every day. I am waiting for McLean to share his rich experience with me. Kirk played in the NHL a lot. He played for Vancouver in the 1994 Cup final. It is very interesting to work with such a person.
Will it be interesting to live in such a high altitude city?
I am ready for that. Yes, some time is needed to get used to that. But in two-three weeks the body will be alright.
Did you go camping in the mountains when you were a kid?
No, it will be the first time to ascend.
So, instead of water you will probably put an oxygen can instead of a water bottle on your goal.
The most important thing is that the air is so pure in Denver. It's so easy to breathe there. The whole pleasure of living in the state of Colorado is ahead of me. Right now I am in Hershey where I work with a conditioning coach. I will then go back to Samara in August, train with CSK VVS there. And on August 15 I will fly to Denver. I will take care of my living situation and will start on ice workouts with a local coach.
What are your first associations with the word "Colorado?"
We already talked about the mountains. It is also a state where people love to ski. There are so many winter resorts here.
Right after the press conference Joe Sakic called me. Sakic wished me luck and told me that he was happy to see me a part of the team now. And then when Patrick Roy called I was just ecstatic! So many great hockey players played for Colorado! Patrick talked to me for a while. He told me about his career in Denver. He told me I made the right choice to come there. It is a great city with awesome fans. Roy told me I will like playing in Colorado.
Is it bad there won't be any Russians on the team?
It is great to play with your countrymen. I spent a lot of time with Semin and Ovi in Washington. I will miss them. But you have to see the positives in everything. No Russians means that I will speak English better. I will learn the language perfect.
Actually, there is one Russian athlete in Denver.
Are you talking about Mozgov? Of course I know that he was also traded to Denver. I think that we will soon meet with Timofei. Maybe I will even start going to NBA games.
Who will now become Washington's number one goalie — Neuvirth or Vokoun?
The person who will better show himself in the first half of the season. But I am not the one to talk about the Capitals. Right now I have to think about Colorado.
- Washington Capitals
- Semyon Varlamov