Hockey

Vokoun, Varlamov: A closer look

There seemed to be a consensus of opinion on the recent Tomas Vokoun and Semyon Varlamov transactions, but a closer look at the stats yields a less clear picture.

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee received much praise from hockey observers for his addition of veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun on Saturday.

And it's true the Capitals signed the durable veteran for about a quarter of his 2010-11 salary when he ran out of NHL deck chairs soon after the free agency period commenced.

Vokoun has averaged 63 appearances over the past eight seasons, and in four years in Florida he averaged about six shutouts per season and strong save percentage stats playing for mostly mediocre Panthers clubs.

Vokoun's Florida splits

Here is Tomas Vokoun's splits during his time in Florida with respect to his goals-against average, and when his shutouts occurred.

  2010-112009-10 2008-09 2007-08  
OCT 2.36-2 3.27-12.69-1 3.09-1  
NOV 2.49-0 2.39-23.28-02.28-0  
DEC 2.65-22.46-0 2.45-2 2.33-2  
JAN 2.50-1 1.49-4 2.16-0 3.16-0  
FEB2.68-1 2.64-01.66-33.03-1  
MAR2.85-03.27-02.78-01.86-0  
      

Washington has a club with the talent to make the Stanley Cup Final but hasn't been able to get past the second round in recent years.

It's questionable whether Vokoun will have anything to do with the Caps clearing that hurdle as he was the definition of a streaky goalie with the Panthers. His best hockey was almost faithfully played between late November and early February in recent years, and more damning, he hasn't been that stellar in the final weeks of the season, as the sidebar indicates.

He made 40 starts in March over his time in Florida, with no shutouts and a so-so 2.70 goals-against average. In fairness to the guy, he does face a lot of vulcanized rubber, and he had a healthy .916 save percentage in those games.

You're probably thinking, all goalies go through slumps, and that's true.

As a comparable to Vokoun, probably the best you'll get is Niklas Backstrom. He's a talented goalie of a fairly similar age (Backstrom is two years younger) on an often mediocre team (Minnesota has averaged about two more points per year than Florida over the past four seasons).

As the splits from website Hockey Reference illustrate, Backstrom has less variation in monthly stats and over the four-year period has usually finished his seasons much stronger than Vokoun (though it should be pointed out that Backtrom had a terrible March in 2010-11).

Remember, both current Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen and former Florida goalie Craig Anderson each were given more than just the odd late season assignment over Vokoun. A backup making an important start in late March is something rarely seen with the New York Rangers or Calgary in recent seasons.  

For the interest of completion, Vokoun's April stats, when Florida was usually out of the running were: 4-2 record, 2.19 goals-against average, with one shutout.

The case for Varlamov

Perhaps the main reason Vokoun was scrambling for work is that Colorado decided instead to go with youth, procuring 23-year-old Semyon Varlamov from Washington.

They paid a high price to acquire the Russian, giving up a first round pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2012 or 2013.

After all, by season's end it seemed pretty clear the Capitals were going to cast their lot with young netminders Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.

Also, Washington won just 11 of 25 in games the past season in which Varlamov figured in the result. The Capitals were 37-14-6 without him, and just 11-9-5 with him.

Those numbers bear a closer look, however. In those 14 defeats with Varlamov in the crease, the Capitals scored 12 goals. Total.

Washington was shut out six times in games Varlamov started, and his save percentage for the season was .924. He's helped the Caps to at least a point in all but a dozen of career decisions (30-12-14)

The price was admittedly steep.

Defending Avalanche GM Greg Sherman is tough after his questionable trade with St. Louis late last season but let's take a stab.

Varlamov is a somewhat proven former first-round pick who seems to have the talent to stay in the league a long time, so giving up an unproven first-round pick isn't exactly beyond the pale.

In the next couple of years, the Avalanche will have to presumably give raises to recent high draft picks Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Erik Johnson. And they have Gabriel Landeskog and perhaps Joey Hishon around the corner.

You could make the case that within the life cycle of the team and how that plays out with their salary bands that come next April a 24-year-old is more of an asset than another 18-year-old. And it's not like they couldn't pick up another draft pick or two in the second or third rounds to soften the blow of the picks they've just lost.

All that said, Colorado is definitely making a big assumption assuming Varlamov can be healthy. As well, he didn't earn high marks for his attitude.

But many hockey observers are also making an assumption regarding Vokoun. He could very well be on the bench when the Capitals begin their playoff quest next April, presuming they qualify.

It was about this time last year, after all, that nearly every hockey observer assumed that the No. 1 goalies for Chicago and Toronto would be Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.