Semyon Varlamov made headlines for two major reasons this season: his stellar on-ice play and his alleged poor off-ice behaviour.
Varlamov’s performance was one of the main reasons for the Colorado Avalanche’s success this year. His .927 save percentage was second best among starters and his 41 wins led the league. His play put him in Vezina Trophy consideration all season long and he was announced as one of three finalists for the award on April 25th.
Unfortunately, Varlamov arrested for a domestic assault charge in October although the charges were later dropped.
Hockey writer Jeff Veillette (commonly referred to by his twitter handle, @Jeffler) posted a tweet discussing how the Vezina Trophy should not be voted on for character issues but rather on performance. The tweet has since been deleted but Veillette was criticized for his viewpoint as many strongly disagreed with his thoughts for a number of reasons mostly revolving around moral disputes. However, Veillette made a valid and correct point that the award should be voted on solely on goaltender play.
The Two Sides of Varlamov
There are two identities of the same person to be talked about here: Semyon Varlamov the goalie and Semyon Varlamov the person.
Semyon Varlamov the goalie was wonderful this season as he had a career year and was one of the best in the NHL.
Semyon Varlamov the person had a not-so-wonderful year. While Varlamov has not been proven guilty in a court of law, any domestic violence allegations are very serious and cannot be brushed off.
And yet, even if Varlamov was guilty (which he very well could have been despite the charges being dropped), this is not a valid reason to vote against him in the Vezina Trophy race.
Here’s the criteria for the Vezina Trophy voters to follow, taken from the official Vezina Trophy award page at NHL.com:
“The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs.”
That criteria matches up with what Varlamov was this season. The stats speak for themselves as do his consistent stretch of highlight reel saves. Nowhere in that criteria does it say, “Recipient must also have a clean record away from the confines of the rink.”
Semyon Varlamov: Potentially Bad Person, Legitimately Good Goaltender
This article is not an excuse of Varlamov’s actions if they were indeed as described or in support of those who commit domestic violence. This is not saying Varlamov should be pardoned of all wrong-doing or his potential actions should be forgiven. This is not saying Varlamov should be given special treatment in the legal system because he is an athlete. This is not to say the incident should be forgotten or domestic violence is OK because the charges were dropped. It is a horrible crime and those who commit it should be punished if the law finds them guilty.
You, the fans, have the right to willingly and openly feel however you want about Varlamov’s alleged off-ice actions. You can feel that Varlamov should not be allowed to play because of the possibility he is a violent offender. You can feel that the justice system failed because the prosecution did not do their job by dropping the charges. You can feel that Varlamov does not deserve to continue as a professional athlete if he actually did commit a very serious crime. These are all valid opinions and it is unfortunate that the case was never properly tried, so it is uncertain if the truth will ever surface.
But, you cannot say that Semyon Varlamov was not among the top goalies in the NHL over the 2013-14 season. You cannot say that Varlamov was not among “the best at his position.” NHL general managers should not be judging on moral activity or character flaws of a goalie but rather on-ice performance. And the man they call “Varly” was rather good at that this season.
Regardless of what Varlamov did or didn’t do, and we may never really know, the NHL went forward and allowed to let Varlamov play with no repercussions. And boy, play he did.
Will Varlamov win the Vezina Trophy this year? It’ll be a tough call as all three candidates — Varlamov, Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Boston’s Tuukka Rask — were stellar performers all season long, with Rask probably being the favourite. But if even one GM did not vote Varlamov due to his off-ice behaviour rather than issues with his performance, which were few and far between, that would be a failure to evaluate a performance-based award on moral grounds. Whether or not Varlamov’s character was a factor in voting is unknown but it wouldn’t be completely unrealistic to hazard a guess that at least one person could have chosen not to vote Varlamov due to his allegations.
The Vezina Trophy is a measure of the best goalie in the NHL, not the best goalie who also happens to be a good person. And whether you like it or not, there is a very real possibility that a violent criminal may also be one of the best goalies in the NHL.