The worst deal today is also, from one perspective, the best deal: Colorado’s decision to add Semyon Varlamov in exchange for a first round draft pick in 2012, and the Capitals choice of a second round selection in 2012 or 2013.  This is a steal of a deal by Capitals general manager George McPhee, who managed to get the kind of return on the disgruntled Varlamov that has been unheard of for any goaltender in recent years.  Given the availability of free agent goalies – including the exceptional Tomas Vokoun – it is difficult to figure out what exactly was going on in the Colorado front office.

Varlamov is 23 years old, and has played just 59 games over the course of his NHL career, and just 89 games of professional hockey in North America.  He is, almost definitively, unproven.  That said, his performance over a short time period has been excellent.

Season Games Overall SV% Even Strength SV%
2008-09 6 0.918 0.919
2009-10 26 0.909 0.929
2010-11 27 0.924 0.930

The most worrisome thing here is in the games played column.  Varlamov has, essentially, played one season’s worth of games for a starting goaltender, and that simply isn’t long enough to establish anything.  His save percentage numbers are good, particularly in the even-strength category, and if he can keep that up this trade won’t seem so bad.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Varlamov could keep those numbers up.  He was good in a (brief) AHL stint, he was good back in Russia, and he has been good internationally.  He is a very talented, very promising goaltender; the only problem here is that so much of the package is promise that is still unrealized.

Then there’s the injury situation.  Since joining the Capitals, the very young Varlamov has missed time for the following:

  • 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.

Still, neither of those points adequately describes the risk Colorado has taken in this deal.  The risk is that Colorado might be giving away a lottery pick here.  Colorado’s performance over the last three years is as follows:

Season Points NHL Rk. Distance From Playoffs Goal Differential
2010-11 68 29th 29 points -61
2009-10 95 12th 8th in the West +11
2008-09 69 28th 22 points -58

Twice in the last three seasons, the Avalanche have finished with a lottery pick.  To be sure, in 2009-10 a strong goaltending performance from Craig Anderson helped bump them into the playoffs, but if Varlamov gets hurt or struggles, Washington could very well be inheriting a lottery pick.

This is a particularly difficult sell given the situation.  Washington has three goalies, and Varlamov was rumoured to be looking at a potential KHL landing.  Free agents are everywhere, including a legitimate franchise talent in Tomas Vokoun.  This should not have been a position of strength for Washington, and George McPhee deserves full credit for extracting this kind of payment for Varlamov.