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New York Islanders

Revisiting the July 1, 2023 Contract Extensions: Part One

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New York Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov vs. the Winnipeg Jets (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)

On July 1 last year, the Islanders signed four long-term contract extensions for Pierre Engvall, Scott Mayfield, Ilya Sorokin, and Semyon Varlamov. Since then, the cap has risen and is expected to continue rising, while the contracts signed by the Islanders last year are aging into the cap.

One year later, it’s time to revisit the contracts and see how they’ve aged. Today, we will focus on Varlamov and Engvall.

Contract 1: Semyon Varlamov

Varlamov signed a four-year contract for $11 million. That equates to $2.75 per year. The snap reactions to the deal seemed to be that of good value, but people questioned the length of the deal for a goalie who will be 39 when the deal is done.

Varlamov came off a four-year, $20 million contract. During that deal, he helped lead the Islanders to two consecutive NHL Semi-Finals in the bubble of 2020 and then the alternate-universe divisions of 2021. The last two years of the deal saw him slide from starter to the backup role for Sorokin. The two have combined for one of the best tandems in the NHL.

One year later, the value of Varlamov has shown through.

This year, Sorokin struggled mightily down the stretch, and the Islanders had to turn to Varlamov. Down the stretch, Varlamov went 8-1-1 in March and April, leading the Islanders into the playoffs and becoming their Game 1 starter. Without Varlamov, the Islanders do not make the playoffs last year.

The deal is still a little long, but with the cap going up and Varlamov showing no signs of slowing down with a .918 save percentage over 28 games, it should end up ok.

This off-season, multiple goalies serving as 1Bs or backups like Varlamov became available. Laurent Brossoit signed a two-year, $6.6 million deal worth $3.3 a year. Brossoit has never played more than 24 games in a single season. Varlamov, unlike Brossoit, has previous starting pedigree and a proven track record of success in both roles; Varlamov is a better use of money for less AAV as well.

Grade: A-

Contract 2: Pierre Engvall

Engvall signed a seven-year, $21 million contract extension last summer. He earned the deal after being acquired at the deadline and finding chemistry with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri. In just 18 games, Engvall scored five goals and nine points. His speed added a dimension to the Islanders’ forward group that they desperately needed.

The initial vibe check on the contract was befuddlement. Giving a player who had never topped 35 points and has been riddled with inconsistency a seven-year contract with a 16-team no-trade clause was surprising.

Now, a year later, it looks worse. Though Engvall has decent analytics in terms of defensive value, it’s hard to ignore his glaring issues. His lowest moment came on January 25 against the Montreal Canadiens. After not showing up during the first period and falling behind 3-0, the Islanders showed unbelievable grit to come back and tie the game 3-3 with just three and a half minutes remaining.

Then, Mayfield stole the puck and gave it to Engvall. Engvall received the puck inside the circle and just had to bank the puck off the boards past Cole Caufield for a clear two-on-one with Nelson. Instead, Engvall fumbled the puck, Caufield stole it, and Sean Monahan scored the game-winning goal with just two and a half minutes to go. (The clip of the play is linked. Skip to 7:40 of the YouTube video to see)

That play was emblematic of Engvall’s season. He overthought and did not make the easy play, thereby frustrating everyone involved. It didn’t help matters that it showed he’s a third-liner, not a second-liner.

Engvall ended up with 10 goals and 28 points, enduring multiple healthy scratches in the process.

However, it is worth noting he shot a career-low 7.8%. He still has speed and some positives to his game. However, it’s worth noting the biggest knock on him in Toronto was his consistency. That’s been his issue on Long Island, too. That likely means it’s not an issue that’ll just go away.

The contract is way too long. The money is about right, though. The NTC is still a head-scratcher, but it wouldn’t preclude the team from waiving or buying him out if necessary in later years.

Grade: C

Closing Thoughts

There may not be a player as frustrating as Pierre Engvall was this year. His potential, coupled with his speed and strong forechecking, is tantalizing, but his inability to finish the plays he creates and mental lapses eroded the positives. A career-low shooting percentage never helps matters, either. He’s a solid player and someone I think the Islanders can still use, but they need more from this year.

Thanks to his strong play this year, Varlamov’s deal has aged considerably better after one season. This assuaged some concerns that he may take a step back or that it could be too long. I don’t think either will be an issue and with the rising cap, the last year of his deal will only be around 2% of the cap.

Tomorrow, we will go over the Mayfield and Sorokin contracts. Both of those discussions are far more nuanced and less straightforward than the two today. I’ll tell you this for free now- I still like both deals. Mayfield’s, in particular, has aged better than you might think.

 

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