DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche addressed their shaky goaltender situation in a big way, acquiring goalie Semyon Varlamov from Washington on Friday and later signing Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a two-year deal.
Colorado also agreed to a four-year contract with defenceman Jan Hejda and a two-year deal with forward Chuck Kobasew in a busy opening day of free agency.
The Avalanche were in desperate need of a goalie, especially after not tendering a qualifying offer to Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj signing with the Montreal Canadiens.
In exchange for Varlamov, the Capitals will receive the Avalanche’s first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional second-rounder in 2012 or 2013.
Giguere, who played last season with Toronto, will serve as a backup and mentor to Varlamov.
The 34-year-old Giguere led the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup title in 2007. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season MVP in ’03, despite the Ducks losing to New Jersey in the finals. It was just the fifth time in league history a player won the award on a losing team.
“He is a proven winner and his addition will be beneficial to our entire team,” Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman said.
Varlamov was 11-9-5 last season for Washington with two shutouts. The Russian’s 2.23 goals-against average was among the best in the league, nearly rivalling that of Boston’s Tim Thomas (2.00), Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo (2.11) and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (2.12).
“In Semyon Varlamov we are acquiring a highly touted NHL goaltender,” Sherman said. “At 23 years old, he is regarded as a solid and talented netminder by our staff. We definitely feel we have addressed our top priority this off-season and for many years to come.”
Varlamov has been playoff-tested, too, appearing in 19 post-season games despite his young age. In 2008-09, he became only the fourth goaltender in league history to earn a playoff shutout prior to his 21st birthday, joining the likes of Harry Lumley, Patrick Roy and Carey Price.
The knock on Varlamov recently has been his health. He was limited to 27 games last season as he dealt with nagging injuries, which cost him a shot at the No. 1 spot in the playoffs.
Not only that but the Caps already had two other young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
The Avalanche were quite enamoured of Varlamov, feeling he could step in right away.
“Semyon is an elite goaltender who is a key part of our future success,” said executive adviser Joe Sakic, a former Avalanche great who was brought on board to help get the team back on track.
The Avalanche are coming off a season in which they won their fewest games (30) since relocating to Denver from Quebec before the 1995-96 season. They’ve missed the post-season in two of the last three seasons.
With money to spend and holes the fill, the Avalanche have been quite active in free agency. They picked up a solid defenceman in Hejda, who played last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 33-year-old suited up in 77 games during the 2010-11 season, scoring five goals and dishing out 15 assists. He also averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time.
“Jan is a defensive defenceman with size,” Sherman said. “He will fill an important role on our blue line and will help our penalty killing unit.”
Hejda’s signing comes on the heels of the team agreeing to terms with defencemen Ryan O’Byrne and Matt Hunwick on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Kobasew was with the Minnesota Wild last season. He had nine goals and seven assists in 63 games. Kobasew was originally a first-round pick by Calgary in 2001.
“Chuck is a talented forward who can provide scoring to our lineup,” Sherman said. “We are expecting him to add depth and speed to our offence.”
Another addition to the offence could be the return of forward Peter Mueller, who sat out all last season with a concussion.
“We are certainly hoping and all indications are that Peter is progressing well,” Sherman said. “He’s had a good summer of training, of getting up to the levels where an elite athlete has to train, symptom-free. We’re looking forward to him being cleared to play in camp and hopefully getting him back for the season.”
As for what’s next on the free-agent front, Sherman said the team may take a breather.
“Been a very busy day,” Sherman said. “Certainly, with the moves we made today and the number of players we’ve added to a roster that we already feel strongly about, right now, it’s a scenario where we continue to focus on our remaining restricted free agents and get ready for camp.”
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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