Avalanche acquire goalie Varlamov from Capitals; sign defenceman Hejda

The Colorado Avalanche made their opening moves in what’s sure to be a busy free agency period for the team, acquiring goalie Semyon Varlamov from Washington on Friday and agreeing to a four-year deal with defenceman Jan Hejda.

DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche made their opening moves in what’s sure to be a busy free agency period for the team, acquiring goalie Semyon Varlamov from Washington on Friday and agreeing to a four-year deal with defenceman Jan Hejda.

In exchange for Varlamov, the Capitals will receive the Avalanche’s first-round pick in 2012 and a second-rounder in 2012 or 2013.

Colorado was in desperate need of a goalie, especially after not tendering a qualifying offer to Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj being an unrestricted free agent.

Varlamov was 11-9-5 last season for Washington with two shutouts. The young Russian’s 2.23 goals against average was among the best in the league, nearly rivaling 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,” Avalanche general manager Greg 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.”

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.

With money to spend and holes the fill, the Avalanche might be 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.

Hejda’s signing comes on the heels of the team agreeing to terms with defencemen Ryan O’Byrne and Matt Hunwick on Thursday.

The Capitals also signed centre Jeff Halpern to a one-year deal worth $825,000. The 35-year-old played six seasons in Washington and was captain during the 2005-06 season. He has since played for Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal.

Halpern has 142 goals and 200 assists during his NHL career.

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