I had every intention of writing part two of the "Michal Neuvirth needs a day off" series, but since he just had one, we'll save parts two and three for another time. And even though I watched every minute of last night's exceptional performance by Braden Holtby, several talented people have already offered their take on his performance in appropriate detail, so no need to talk about that just yet. But I did notice a trend today that needs to be addressed. More than one excellent blog (not to mention a few message boards) mentioned that Washington would be fine with Neuvirth and Holtby, and without Varlamov. Some even mentioned it might be the right time to trade young Semyon. Me personally, I think the idea of keeping Holtby with the Caps and trading Varlamov (or even sending him to Hershey for anything longer than a conditioning stint) is ludicrous.
For starters, for all anyone knows, Varlamov is not just the best chance to win this year but the best NHL goalie in the long run. I mean, it's certainly possible that he'll be an injury-riddled question mark for his whole career, but he's an undeniable talent with a strong early track record, and it's incredibly premature to write him off. Secondly, keeping Holtby with the Caps is the wrong thing for his growth. He needs games. Like 50 or more of them. He needs to spend a full season being a starter as a pro. He needs to continue to develop outside the pressure of a NHL media market, and without the weight of a legit Stanley Cup contender on his shoulders when he gets to play every fifth game. Keeping a 21-year-old in his second pro season as an NHL back-up, especially when you already have a pair of (much more) proven young goalies ahead of him, is crazy. Next problem: if we assume that Neuvirth is the Caps' best goalie this year (and bear in mind we're still not even 1/4 of the way into the season), we also have to remember he's never played as many as 60 games in a season before. So the Caps desperately need a reliable back-up goalie to play 25+ games and get them 15+ wins. If it has to be Holtby because of injury, then so be it, even though in that case you can bet the Caps would try to trade for a cheap veteran back-up without giving up much in return. And Holtby works fine in the short term, and even gives Varlamov a chance to have a rehab start or two in Hershey. But why willingly choose Holtby when you've got a guy in Varlamov who's proven he's got NHL talent and proven he can win at this level, at least as well as Neuvirth has. Lastly, even if you disagree with the three reasons above, right now you can't get more than 50 cents on the dollar for Varlamov anyway. Given Varly's injury history, the closest comp from a trade perspective is probably Kari Lehtonen, who is vastly talented but hasn't been able to stay healthy. When he was traded last summer as a 25 year old with 200+ NHL starts and 90+ NHL wins, the Thrashers picked up a 4th round pick and a forward prospect with five NHL games on his resume. Not the sort of trade haul that helps the Caps in the here and now.
Listen, I really like what I've seen of Holtby so far. All 71 minutes of him. He seems to have the requisite poise, he moves well, and handles the puck exponentially better than either of his counterparts. And I know many Caps' fans are sick of the "glass groin" and ready to move on at the first thought of something more stable. But cooler heads need to prevail when it comes to how to handle this triumvirate. Caps fans should realize that the best possible outcome is for Neuvirth to stay hot, Varlamov to stay healthy, and Holtby to stay in Hershey.