High-level NHL sources tell me this: Despite reports to the contrary elsewhere, the biggest reason why the Colorado Avalanche chose to protect Semyon Varlamov over Calvin Pickard in Wednesday's NHL expansion draft was: The Las Vegas Golden Knights would have taken Varlamov if he'd been available.
BSN has learned that the Avalanche believed Las Vegas general manager George McPhee, either through direct contact or a high-level contact close to McPhee, was prepared to select Varlamov. McPhee was part of the Washington Capitals management team that drafted Varlamov originally, it should be noted.
It is a popular misconception that McPhee traded Varlamov to Colorado in 2011 because he wasn't enamored with his play anymore. It had more to do with money and some general unhappiness that Varlamov felt toward the Caps moving forward. Varlamov nearly re-signed with his former KHL team, Lokomotiv, before the Caps dealt him away to the Avs.
Whether the Golden Knights ever admit it or not, or were just trying to call the Avs' bluff, the Avs believed Las Vegas posed a serious threat to take Varlamov. At this stage of his career, with two years left on a contract that has a $5.9 million cap hit, the Avs didn't want to lose Varlamov for nothing.
There is a risk Pickard could go on to a strong NHL career. But at this point, it was a gamble the Avs were willing to take.