So, those Washington Capitals are at it again. The goofy goalie games are back yet again. This time its the subjugation of another struggling goalie for another possible surprise move in net even more drastic than last years trade deadline theatrics with Cristobal Huet. All the talk is about the streaky Jose Theodore’s lackluster play in game one of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs first round and the possibility of the Caps bringing in rookie Simeon Varlamov. For Jose to keep his job, he needs to look like his millennial self, including, perhaps, putting one in the net, just for good measure, since it’s been a while for him… and we know, that’s probably just not going to happen.
Being a Caps fan, I’ll give a couple of reasons why I would support this goaltending this move, if it happens.
First, Simeon was the 06 first round pick by the Caps. Considering the Caps extraordinary scouting history there’s an aweful lot to look forward to. Consider, for a moment, these young Caps who make up the current core of the team: Nicky Backstrom 06 first round, Alie Ovechkin 04 first round, Mikey Green 04 first round, Jeff Schultz 04 first round, Eric Fehr 03 first round, Alex Semin 02 first round plus Tom Fleishman 05 rookie after being acquired from the Red Wings an 02 second rounder, Brooks Laitch 03 rookie after being acquired from the the Senators as an 01 third rounder, Dave Steckle 05 rookie after being acquired from the LA Kings as a first rounder. That’s a solid list of players who have come up through the Caps system and the foursome of Ovie, Nicky, Mikey and Backstrom have been dominate, if not in some ways underrated, considering they are all young kids playing together without the benefit of a stacked veteran staff around them how most players would grow up. The Caps historically picked franchise influencing first round players well, including Brendan Witt, Sergie Gonchar, Olaf Kolzig, Kevin Hatcher, Scott Stevens, Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner, to name but a few.
Second, Simeon is coming out of the Hershey Bears system. The same system that developed all of the above. The same system that provided the coaching leadership of Bruce Boudreau. The same system that in 06 won their 9th Calder Cup, Eastern Conference champions and runners up for the Calder Cup in 07, and in 09 Eastern Conference champions and making another Calder Cup run, which was also Simeon Varlamov’s first year with the team going 19-7-1 in 27 games as a starter between call up stints with the Caps.
Third, he has some unique experience thus far. In 2008 Simeon helped lead Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to the Russian Super League finals, so he has big game experience as a starter. He’s also stood up to the NHL pressure in his extraordinary short time in the league. His debut in December on the road against the venerable Montreal Canadians (who were seeded 2nd in the Northeast and 4th in the Eastern conference at the time) he won and followed that up a few days later at his first game on Caps home ice against the St. Louis Blues he pulled another big win. His final record was 4-0-1 with a 2.37 goals against average and .918 save percentage which is nothing shabby coming off the bench cold.
Forth, he has fellow countrymen Sergi Federov and Viktor Kozlov as veterans to learn from and Alie Ovechkin and Alex Semin as youth to be excited with. He’s also been able to learn from veterans Josey Theodore and Brent Johnson during the season as well. That is a special support system to be playing in that is unlike the way most young goalies would come up.
Finally, remember the Caps had decent luck in developing draft goalies in the past. Despite a short lived time in net Jim Carey was a Venezia Trophy winner as a Caps draft pick turned phenom. Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, Hap Holmes Memorial Award and Venezia Trophy winner Olaf Kolzig was a stalwart in net for over a decade, even though those tough rebuilding years. He developed as a backup behind Beaupre, Carey and Ranford before taking over the starting role full time and went on to become one of only 10 goalies with 4 post-season shutouts in the same Cup season and only one of 4 goalies to survive the firefight of the All Star Game to come out unscathed with a 0.00 GAA and only Marty Brodeur of the Devils played more games in the same period. Hopefully Simeon Varlamov looks more like Kolzig in the long run than Carey, but still, considering the lack of luck with goalies since acquiring Beaupre, Simeon could be a good fit on a developing team considering the past.
It IS an aweful lot of pressure to put any 20 year old under, but this is no ordinary 20 year old and this is no ordinary team. If the move happens and Simeon plays well then Bruce Boudreau and Ted Leonesis look like geniuses. Even if the kid doesn’t earn the win, if he can keep the game close, play poised and keep the Caps potent scoring in it he could help stem the bleeding and help turn the tide. On the other hand, if he flounders, one has to wonder what the already fragile psyche of Theodore might be like getting back out on the ice after being benched. He’s bounced back well at times in the past but he’s also had face crushing flops too. And, you also have to wonder what a loss would do to the rookie, especially if it’s a debilitating loss, and how he’ll both offer as a backup for the balance of the Cup as well as for next year as his career commences. Then, of course, there is what the failure could do to the team if they have to continue to play on their heals for too much longer.
The announcement should come later today. Till then, here’s to the cold veins of a hopefully surprising Caps Cup champ. Cheers.