Braden Holtby

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

When George McPhee swooped in and signed free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun for a couple bucks and Alex Ovechkin’s now useless stockpile of CCM sticks, there was no doubt it was a great move for the Washington Capitals. But that doesn’t mean everyone was happy with it. 21-year-old netminder Braden Holtby, who looked assured of a roster spot just a day before when the team traded away Semyon Varlamov, was once again relegated to a job with the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

We know what Michal Neuvirth, the remaining ‘keeper in the Caps’ trio, thinks about the deal and losing his starting spot. Holtby, however, has been somewhat of a mystery, with head coach Bruce Boudreau admitting during Development Camp even he hasn’t spoken to the Saskatchewan native about the move.

Unbeknownst to us (but not Hockey Ramblings), someone has been able get Holtby’s side of the story. Several weeks ago, The Pipeline Show on Team 1260 Edmonton caught up the young goalie, with Holtby spilling the beans on the crease situation, Nicklas Backstrom’s injuries, why he didn’t think the team’s defensive system was much of a change, and more.

Below, we offer a transcription.

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Photo credit: Greg Fiume

When the Washington Capitals traded away oft-injured but skilled goaltender Semyon Varlamov, General Manager George McPhee said the team was more than comfortable using two relatively inexperienced netminders in Michal Neuvirth, 23-years-old, and Braden Holtby, 21, for the 2011-12 season — after all, he had done so the previous year with Neuvirth and Varlamov in the crease. Less than 24 hours later, however, the tables turned when McPhee scooped up veteran Tomas Vokoun, one of the league’s elite goalies, for the bargain price of $1.5 million for one year.

“We were certainly willing to play our top young goaltenders, but I think people will agree this addition makes us deep again at the most important position in the game,” GMGM said at the time. “We love what we have in Holtby and we certainly love what we have in Neuvirth, but from an organizational standpoint, we’re all better off having this depth.”

Soon after the signing, Vokoun told reporters the Caps offered him no guarantees on the starting spot, but as a Vezina-caliber ‘keeper, Bruce Boudreau essentially gave him the nod over Neuvirth.

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All photos by Sweetest Hockey On Earth’s Kyle M.

On July 1st — the first day of Free Agency — the Capitals dealt 23-year-old Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013. After weeks of speculation that pointed to Varly not returning to Washington and even potentially landing in the KHL, the Avalanche submitted an offer that General Manager George McPhee couldn’t refuse.

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Photo credit: Greg Fiume

Just two days after re-signing restricted free agent Mathieu Perreault, the Washington Capitals locked up their two remaining RFAs on Friday, inking defenseman Karl Alzner to a two-year deal and forward Francois Bouchard to a one-year contract.

Alzner, of course, is the most important player of the bunch. In his first full season in the NHL last year, the Burnaby, British Columbia native became part of the Caps’ top defensive pairing, along with John Carlson, and provided a steady, stay-at-home presence on the blue-line.

“I think he’s a very important part of our team,” Washington Head Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He got a lot of minutes and played in a lot of tough situations so I think it’s a great signing on our part — glad it was done.”

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Free Agency Flustercluck Open Thread

Here’s where all the action happens. Lots of things cooking today.

Japers’ has a great primer on who in the Caps system is up for grabs: Arnott, Sturm, Hannan, Gordon, Brouwer, Bradley, Alzner, Varlamov.

We’ll update this post with each development relevant to the Caps, and you can share your panic-struck ravings in the comments.

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Report: Semyon Varlamov signs with KHL’s SKA

Semyon Varlamov

As reported by the Russian website, goalie Semyon Varlamov has signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Previous reports out of Russia indicated SKA was offering the 23 year-old netminder up to $4 million per year but Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who held the KHL rights to negotiate with Varlamov, was unwilling to make a trade.

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Down One Russian: Semyon Varlamov to Russia Apparently

The site’s called Russian Machine Never Breaks, so we’ve got a vested interest in the unibrowed wonder called Semyon Varlamov.

Reports everywhere say that Varly will not sign with the Capitals and will play instead in the KHL next season.

This whole thing could’ve been avoided if only we had learned…

After the jump, some RMNB memories of Varly.

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Brooks Laich is Back; Ladies, You Can Exhale Now

Brooks Laich

It looks like six more years of high-fives and tire changes are on tap. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

As all of you Brooks Laich fans kept hitting refresh instead of working Tuesday morning, the Capitals announced that the soon to be unrestricted free agent had re-signed with the team to the tune of six years and $27 million.

“There was never a serious consideration to go anywhere else,” Laich said. “The main core of this team is very young and if you can keep that together, you’re looking at a chance to win a championship for potently the next 10 years, rather than just a window of two to three years. That was a great motivator to get me re-signed.”

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“Time heals all wounds.” – Olie Kolzig (Photo credit: Joe Lavelle)

Olie Kolzig is back! Three years after the fan favorite goalie lost his starting role to Cristobal Huet and left on bad terms the club with which he had spent his entire NHL career, Kolzig has rejoined the Capitals as associate goaltender coach. In his new role, Kolzig will assist Dave Prior, who regains the title of goaltender coach he gave up in 2009 to spend more time with his family. Arturs Irbe took over for Prior but decided not to return for the 2011-12 season, citing reasons similar to Prior’s when he left his coaching job.

“I’m ecstatic to finally come back basically to the place I call home — playing there for so long,” Kolzig told reporters on a conference call. “Being away for two years, I started to get the itch again to get involved again with hockey. … When Dave Prior called me a few weeks back and pitched the idea of coming back and being an associate goaltending coach and working with him, I thought there’s probably not a better person that I want to work with and an organization that I want to be back together with.”

And Kolzig wasn’t the only one who found it a perfect match.

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Behold! Alexsandr's other "We Are The Champions" painting

Did you think this would be a slow news week? Maybe an injury update here or a scouting report there, but overall an uneventful period before the semifinals. Well, you were wrong. From the Internet’s very own disreputable flea market emerges what might become the cultural moment of the hockey season.

(Are we building this up too much?)

Artist Aleksandr Reut has crafted Washington Capitals – We are the Champions!, an exquisite 40″ x 32″ oil painting on canvas. This inspired (yet absurdly premature) work of celebratory art and its partner piece are available for bid or purchase on eBay right now. Starting bid is only $5,000, so crack open those piggy banks.

A 50-something Ukranian ex-pat living in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Reut fills the daytime hours as an architect, but the muses compel him to high art. A decade-old profile from Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record (reprinted here by extols Reut’s passion for mixed media as a sculptor, but he tells me that it’s hockey that really inspires him.

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