Northwest: Varlamov looking like a good acquisition for Avalanche

By Blake Benzel

Photo: Colorado Avalanche goatender Semyon Varlamov has been a big reason that his team has remained in playoff contention this late in the 2011-12 season (courtesy of

Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI)

Even if the Colorado Avalanche miss the playoffs this season, general manager Greg Sherman is likely to be all smiles. The reason behind this is, simply, his big off-season gamble seems to be working out just fine.

On July 1, 2011, Sherman paid a humungous price for then Washington Capitals goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, giving up a first round pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2012 or 2013. The derision towards that move was immediate. The hockey pundits were immediately questioning Sherman’s decision, while Capitals fans were busy mockingly thanking the Avalanche’s general manager for the lottery pick.

At the time of the trade, it would have been hard to disagree with any of them.

Prior to this season, Varlamov had never played more than 27 games in an NHL season and was wildly inconsistent in his two seasons with the Capitals. He was coming off of a season in which he fell out of favor with the coaching staff in Washington and even seemed headed to the KHL to which Capitals’ General Manager, George McPhee, responded, “If he wants to go to the KHL, let him go. This is the best league in the world, and most players want to play here.”

Ultimately, despite his hard line, McPhee was obviously not willing to let a potential franchise goalie walk out the door for nothing and Varlamov was moved to an Avalanche team in desperate need of a goalie.

Now, though, the trade seems to be a small price to pay for a goaltender that could, potentially, be playing at this elite level for the Avalanche for another decade or more.

You don’t see a lot of those guys in the league, a goalie as young as he is, in a starting role,” Avalanche defenseman Eric Johnson told the Denver Post. “Since he’s come back, probably right after the All-Star break, he’s probably been the best goalie in the league. We saw what he could do earlier in the year, but now he’s doing it on a consistent basis.”

The key word to describe Varlamov’s game now is the word that any NHL goalie wants to describe their game – consistent.

Varlamov certainly showed flashes early on in the season, but it’s seemed as if every time he took a step forward, he would take two more steps back. Now, with his struggles seemingly behind him, Varlamov is playing at an elite level that most goalies in the league would be envious of.

Since a five-game losing streak in January and February, Varlamov has lost more than one game in a row just once – a four-game losing streak spanning from Mar. 22 to Mar. 28. Even during that one extended losing streak, Varlamov only gave up more than three goals once and, during this run of spectacular performances, he has given up three or more goals just six times in 19 games, while holding Colorado’s opponents to less than two goals ten times.

In other words, he’s been pretty darn good.

The success, however, has not gone to Varlamov’s head. He’s already seen how quickly a goaltender can fall out of favor with an organization and a fanbase in his young career and knows that he can’t become complacent.

You have to keep working on the things you do well and work even harder on the things you can improve,” Varlamov told the Denver Post. “I learn, you always have to try harder the next game, the next day in practice. That’s all you can do.”

It’s this attitude that has Varlamov playing the best hockey of his young career and this attitude that has the Avalanche contending for a playoff spot and looking like they could be one of the teams to beat in the Northwest Division next season.

Northwest Division Notes

Oilers defenseman Cam Barker found himself back in the lineup on Sunday, with both Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid on the shelf with injuries. Barker hadn’t played in a game since Feb. 29 and had been a healthy scratch for the Oilers for the past 14 games. … The Wild won two straight shootouts over playoff teams over the weekend, downing the Kings 4-3 and the Blackhawks, 5-4. … Wild rookie forward, Jason Zucker, tallied two assists in Minnesota’s 4-3 shootout win over the Kings. The points were his first two in the NHL. … Oft-injured Canucks defenseman Sami Salo has played 66 games this season for the Canucks. Three more games and Salo will have played the most games that he has in a season since before the NHL lockout.