July 01, 2011
The Colorado Avalanche did a very good thing in signing defenseman Jan Hejda(notes) from the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-year, $13 million deal. He's a solid pro and was a coveted commodity as NHL free agency began. He chose the Avalanche. That means something.
We wanted to get the praise out of the way before pointing out the incredibly baffling and potentially disastrous deal that is GM Greg Sherman's trade for Washington Capitals restricted free-agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov(notes).
The Capitals didn't need Varlamov. They have Michal Neuvirth(notes) as their starter and Braden Holtby(notes) down in the AHL , with the potential to usurp Neuvirth one day. If they were going to add a goaltender, it would be a veteran with more playoff experience than Varlamov. Which is why Varlamov would have left for the KHL rather than re-signing with the Capitals.
To reset the scene: Varlamov wasn't going to play for the Capitals and was a restricted free agent.
So the Avs traded a first-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and a conditional second-round choice in either 2012 or 2013 to the Capitals for Varlamov. Had Colorado signed Varlamov to an offer sheet, would the Capitals have matched it just to keep an asset they no longer needed?
If they didn't match, it would have cost the Avalanche a second-round pick, given the salary they settled on per TSN: 2 years at $5.5 million.
(UPDATE: Late Friday night, Cap Geek spilled the details on the Varlamov deal: 3 years, which is more in line with a "franchise goalie" commitment, at $2,833,333 per season against the cap.)
Instead, the Avalanche end up trading a second-round pick and a first-round pick for Varlamov. A first round pick that, frankly, could be in the lottery next year.
(UPDATE: GM Greg Sherman said on a conference call on Friday night that it would be "accurate" to say the Capitals would have matched an offer sheet on Varlamov. "That's a mechanism that can be used, but the team that holds the right on that to match," he said.)
So that's one level of potential failure, without even discussing the player. Varlamov is an athletic, extremely talented goalie. He's also one that has holes in his game and at 23 is as close to damaged goods as one can get. From Jonathan Willis at Houses of the Hockey, the many injuries of Varly:
Nine games due to a groin injury
Four games due to an undisclosed injury
13 games due to a second groin injury
One game due to a "lower body" injury
11 games courtesy of a knee injury
If Varlamov were 35, we would accept these injuries as par for the course. Given his youth, they are significantly more troubling — there are no shortage of examples where a young goaltender has lost his career due to injury troubles.
Maybe that's why it's just a 2-year term. But then why do you trade a first-rounder for him?
The first claim can be logically disputed. The second is undeniable. As Adrian Dater wrote:
Today, they essentially placed the near-term future of the franchise on a 23-year-old goalie who didn't even start for the Washington Capitals in the playoffs and who has a history of groin problems. Oh, and they parted with what could be a first-round lottery pick next year, plus a second-rounder in either of the next two years to get him. Happy, Avalanche fans?
Then again, this could turn out to be a good deal for the Avs. But, wow, talk about a big-time gamble by GM Greg Sherman. They could have just signed 34-year-old Tomas Vokoun(notes), a proven veteran, and given up no draft picks. But no, the Avs have laid a heavy, big-time bet on Varlamov.
This was written before the Avalanche were on the cusp of signing J.S. Giguere, but the sentiment still applies.
Another question: How does it feel to be Brian Burke circa 2009, hoping the Bruins are picking somewhere in the late first round rather than second overall?