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.

Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling “Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports’ Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era” and “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, which was published in October, 2016.

  • Chris DeMott

    If I was George Mcphee, I would have said that as well… But, it was still the wrong move to protect that contract. This team needed cap space to rebuild.

    • Jimbotronn

      But wouldn’t it make more sense to trade that player instead, thus freeing the cap space AND bring back a few assets in return? Even if getting rid of Varlamov is the smartest move for this team (and I’m not arguing against it), getting rid of him for no return other than cap space is short-sighted at best and irresponsible at worst. Even with questions about his health, phones would be ringing in Sakic’s office if he put Varlamov on the trading block.

      • Chris DeMott

        A valid point if you can trade him. I just have a tough time seeing him looking good to anybody at $6M with the team that is going to be front of him. We’ll see where this ends up but I have a feeling that Vegas is going to clean up over the next couple months. Maybe a playoff team has a starter go down and a trade happens though. At least they hung on to Barberio.

        • Dakoda Benson

          Retaining salary is an easy option. Cap space isn’t really an issue right now. If we’re rebuilding, that means moving out high salary players and moving in young players on ELC’s. I just don’t see who’s going to risk many assets for a player who’s been in decline both health and play over the last three seasons.

          • Chris DeMott

            You could be right, but the Avs have 10 contracts to write and few usable prospects to bring up. Imo, they are going to have to bring in some free agents if they want to be competitive. They are on the hook for over $9M just between Beauchemin and Soderberg. I’d love to see Soderberg moved out but I doubt that happens with 3 more years on his deal.

        • Daniel Henderson

          There were reports that teams were looking into trading for Varly. There was interest.

      • bob_w

        And if the Avs could trade Varly then so could the Knights. They didn’t have to want him to take him since they could turn him into other assets. And the Avs would then be without a No. 1 goal tender.

        • Fivefingers

          Agreed but why not trade Picks at the deadline, expose Smith. Now we have more assets.

          • Jimbotronn

            I don’t think they could have exposed Smith. According to nhlnumbers.com he is a UFA for 2017-18, and teams had to expose at least one goaltender who was either under contract or an upcoming RFA. The Avs only had two goalies that qualified: Varly and Picks. To protect and/or trade them both they’d have had to sign another goalie and then expose that goalie… an option, but not a great one.

          • Fivefingers

            comprende, but sign another guy.

  • Mczoo2

    Varly over Fleury for the same money? Hmm, I believe only Colorado would make that pick. Colorado continues with their poor decisions, in my opinion.

  • jpwheels

    All of this just doesn’t add up for me. The rumors of Fluery going to Vegas have been swirling since the Penguins hoisted the cup, and I’d bet some of those were based on “sources”. And they turned out to actually be true. Based on a quote from McPhee I just read, Vegas would have taken Fluery even without the pick they got from Pitt. So I seriously doubt that would have changed if Varly had been unprotected.
    There’s no doubt Varly can play at an elite level when he is healthy and he is on top of his game. But there is absolutely no guarantee the surgeries permanently fixed his groin issues. I think Vegas would have been nuts to take a chance on that.

    While Picks hasn’t shown he’s quite ready to be a top-notch starter, the way he battles so hard to make a save tells me he has the drive to get there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the VGK’s starter a year or two down the road.

    I think the Avs protected the wrong guy.

    And if the Avs actually got wind of Vegas being interested in Varly, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn it was a smoke screen so the goalie Vegas really wanted was available.

    • Mczoo2

      Picard was the obvious choice for backup tender, and for a reasonable price. Varly wasn’t going any where with that salary and only 1 elite year. I don’t get it either.

  • bd15

    They would have never taken Varly. Avs got suckered into protecting the wrong guy and now Vegas has a great backup. They should not have protected Comeau or Varly. Should have protected Barberio – that’s the only good news is that he is still an Av. Terrible decisions.

  • Fivefingers

    Only the Avs could lose Picks like this. Either trade him and ink another goalie to expose. But noooo, we apparently needed a goalie for our epic bad season. The salary dump alone would have helped and they still probably should trade Varly if he pays well.