It’s April 11 of the year 2014, and Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov is preparing for a first-round matchup with the Minnesota Wild after closing out the season with seven straight victories.
He is confident in leading a Colorado Avalanche team that features rookie phenom, Nathan MacKinnon and young studs Tyson Barrie, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, and Gabe Landeskog. With Avalanche legends Alex Tanguay and Paul Stastny, the Avs are built to win. In fact, they just finished their regular season winning the division and earning the ever boisterous head coach, Patrick Roy, a Jack Adams Award.
Now, fast forward to April 11, 2019. The soon to be free agent is playing the role as backup to a red hot Philipp Grubauer. A team with the stoic and calm Jared Bednar at the helm. Varlamov has left the door open for Grubby to stake his claim as the future number one goalie. It’s Grubby that is coming off winning eight of his last ten and preparing for a first-round playoff matchup with the Calgary Flames. Success found without ROR, Paul Stastny, or Matt Duchene and in large part to the stellar play of Grubby.
Moral of the story? A lot can change in 5 years.
Varlamov can’t dwell on what could have been for too long given his unrestricted free-agent status. Now it’s time to focus on what’s next for a 31-year-old keeper that’s missed substantial parts of seasons with groin injuries and struggled to remain a consistent asset between the pipes.
SHOULD HE STAY
Varlamov has said that he does not want to leave Colorado if he’s presented an opportunity to stay. The real question is, will he be willing to take a pay cut. He’s coming off a contract that cost the Avalanche 5.9M AAV over five years. With how things have played out over the years, Joe Sakic holds all the cards in negotiating despite seeing flashes of what Varly once was throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Varlamov told Ryan Clark, “I want to stay because I love this team,” but there are still other factors to consider in appropriately handling this situation.
First, we must consider the recent signing of 22-year-old Adam Werner and the impressive AHL play of UFA Pavel Francouz. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Francouz become the full-time backup to Grubby in the 2019-20 season. Resigning 28-year-old Pavel, would be an effective alternative to resigning Varly who would surely come with a higher AAV no matter the terms of agreement.
Tasked with making a decision on nine UFAs and fifteen RFAs the Avalanche have to manipulate their cap space with meticulous care. Mikko Rantanen, J.T. Compher, Alexander Kerfoot and Nikita Zadorov are among those that need to be signed or let go. Mikko’s contract will come at a considerable cost and that signing should be of the highest priority.
Check out our more detailed look into just how the Avs should spend their money here:
How much money do the Colorado Avalanche have and what do they need in Free Agency
SHOULD HE GO
The fact that the Avalanche weren’t able to trade Varlamov before the trade deadline back in February tells us one of two things. Either he’s not really on anyone’s radar in terms of value, or the Avs felt his services could prove vital had something went down with Grubby in the playoffs. It’s safe to think that Sakic was thinking the latter given his usual conservative approach to these situations. So who might be interested in Varly?
A team that’s continuously spinning the goaltending carousel is the Philadelphia Flyers. Keepers Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott, and Cam Talbot are all RFAs this offseason, and none of the three stood out as deserving of an extension. Young Carter Hart continues to show a ton of potential, so I imagine he gets the nod as the starter going into next season. Varlamov could serve as a robust influence and mentor to Hart while also adding some stability and an otherwise elusive solution to the Flyers tending woes.
I could also see the Columbus Blue Jackets showing some interest in Varly if they aren’t able or aren’t interested in bringing Sergei Bobrovski back. Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen seemed to go with the last-ditch effort approach as the trade deadline came and went and he held onto Artemi Panarin and Bob while also trading for Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene to fortify the push. Coming up short on winning a cup seemingly spells the beginning of a new era and a fresh-faced squad for Columbus in 2020.
GO BACK HOME?
If Varly is looking to be the toast of his home country, he could sign with a team in the KHL. I highly doubt this is even being considered an option to anyone in the Varlamov camp despite the allure of fame and fandom. Varlamov may no longer be in his prime, but it’s not quite the time to go back home for one last hoorah.
I also can’t see the KHL competing with the NHL’s purchasing power despite his diminished value. The need for good goaltending is as prevalent as ever so expect Varly to find out just how much he’s still worth among NHL squads.
If you play hockey professionally, you want to play in the NHL until the league no longer requires your services. No two ways about it.
WHAT’S BEST FOR VARLY & THE AVALANCHE
In five years Avalanche fans have witnessed a division winning team, the worst team in franchise history, and finally, a team that looks to be a contender for years to come. We are ready for a more consistent next five and that starts with stout play from whatever netminder is wearing an Avalanche uniform. Grubby is the future by way of a deserving performance in 2019. As Joe Sakic counts his pennies for tomorrow, he’d be wise to save some money by bringing Fancouz back to replace Varly as the backup.
It’s best for both the Colorado Avalanche and Varlamov to sever ties. I would have loved to have seen him take hold of the number one spot this season and force Sakic’s hand, but it just didn’t happen. He’ll most certainly make more money if he tests the market. Varly has to consider what’s best for him going forward and as they say, “It’s all business.”
If Varlamov ends up signing elsewhere, He’ll go with a wink and a nod from me. The second-winningest goaltender in Avalanche history will have to part from thoughts of what could have been and what was and look to what may be. I wish him nothing but the best and look forward to his return to Pepsi Center no matter what sweater he’s wearing.