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Avalanche address needs by adding Varlamov, Hejda

by Greg Picker /
On the first day of free agency, the Colorado Avalanche made some noise in an attempt to climb back into the playoff picture following a disappointing 2010-11 season. The Avs traded for the rights to Washington Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov, and also inked free agent defenseman Jan Hejda to a four-year, $13.5 million deal.

Colorado parted with its 2012 first-round draft pick and a conditional second-rounder to get Varlamov, a restricted free agent.

The Avalanche finished the 2010-11 season with the second-worst record in the NHL, and as a result held the second pick in this year's Entry Draft. General Manager Greg Sherman seems more confident in his team for the upcoming season, and as a result felt the 2012 first-round pick was expendable to shore up the goaltending position.

"In Semyon Varlamov we are acquiring a highly touted NHL goaltender," Sherman said in a press release. "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 offseason and for many years to come."

After playing in 27 games with Washington last season, Varlamov had been rumored to be heading to the Kontinental Hockey League. For now, it appears as if Varlamov will stay in the NHL, as the two-year veteran projects to be Colorado's No. 1 goaltender.

Last season Colorado began the year with Craig Anderson as its starting netminder but traded him to Ottawa in February for goaltender Brian Elliott. As a team, the Avalanche gave up an NHL worst 3.50 goals per game. Second worst in the NHL was Atlanta, which gave up 3.20 goals per game. The Detroit Red Wings gave up the most goals per game for a team which made the playoffs, averaging 2.89 against during the regular season.

Varlamov made a name for himself in the NHL during the 2009 postseason when he backstopped the Capitals for 13 games before they bowed out in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Varlamov had only played six career NHL games before the playoffs began. In those 13 games, Varlamov went 7-6, posting a 2.53 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

The following season, Varlamov competed with Jose Theodore for the Capitals' No. 1 job with Theodore playing 47 games, Varlamov playing 26 and Michael Neuvirth playing 17. This past season it was Neuvirth taking hold of the top goaltending position rather than Varlamov, and as a result the Capitals deemed the 23-year-old Varlamov expendable.

Adding security to the crease wasn’t the only move Colorado made Friday. By signing Hejda, formerly of the Blue Jackets, the Avalanche looked to solidify the blue line.

"Jan is a defensive defenseman with size," Sherman said. “He will fill an important role on our blue line and will help our penalty killing unit."

This past year, Hejda, 33, averaged 21 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time per game, second most of any Blue Jacket playing more than half the season. Hejda was third among Blue Jackets defensemen with 20 points on 5 goals and 15 assists.

Hejda was originally drafted in the fourth round by Buffalo in 2003 after playing seven years in his native Czech Republic. Hejda finally made it to the NHL in 2006-07 playing 39 games for the Edmonton Oilers. After one season in Edmonton he signed with the Blue Jackets where he played the last four seasons.

In 2008-09, Hejda scored a career-high 21 points as the Blue Jackets made it to the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

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