From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
New York Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov was one of the best goaltenders during the 56-game 2021 NHL season. In 36 games played, Varlamov posted a 19-11-4 record, with a .929 SV% and a 2.04 GAA, along with seven shutouts. His save percentage ranked second in the NHL, his goals-against-average ranked fourth, and his seven shutouts were tied amongst the league lead with Colorado Avalanche netminder, now Seattle Kraken starter Phillip Grubauer.
Varlamov was as dominant as we have ever seen a goaltender on home ice, with a .937 SV% and a 1.87 GAA in 18 games at Nassau Coliseum.
Although not completely healthy after sustaining a lower-body injury the final week of the season, he was integral in the Islanders going as far as they did, as well as the play of Ilya Sorokin.
For a second straight postseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent the Islanders packing in the semi-finals, this time a game later, by one goal, in a Game 7.
Once the summer came and went, and training camp rolled around, news broke that Semyon Varlamov would likely not be ready for the start of the 2021-22 NHL season as he was still rehabbing that lower-body injury.
Varlamov missed all of training camp as well as the New York Islanders’ first nine games of the season, as he made his season debut in game no. 10, a 5-2 loss on Nov. 7 against the Minnesota Wild.
He went on to win two of his next three starts, before losing six straight as that was the pattern for the majority of the season.
Rust certainly played a factor in Varlamov’s slow start to the season, but he never truly got settled in between the pipes and his season numbers left many concerns.
In 31 games played in a chaotic 2021-22 season, Varlamov posted a 2.91 GAA with a .911 SV% and just two shutouts.
While the team in front of him struggled for the majority of his season, Varlamov did not help the cause. He owned a Goals Saved Above Average in the negatives, at -5.55 at five-on-five play.
While Varlamov struggled to find his game, his counterpart Ilya Sorokin emerged as a netminder that could be trusted by Barry Trotz and now Lane Lambert as the go-to guy. The New York Islanders had the opportunity to move Semyon Varlamov, and his $5 million annual cap hit (two seasons remaining) at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, as there were a number of suitors that were interested given their own goaltending troubles.
Per a league source, there was a trade in place, but Varlamov declined to waive his no-movement clause, as is his right, and a New York Islander he remained.
Varlamov’s last start of the 2021-22 season, which came in game no. 81 against the Washington Capitals, allowed fans to see that the “old” Semyon Varlamov was very much still alive.
He stopped 26 of 27 shots he faced, losing his shutout with 42 seconds remaining in the third period, as he was deserving of a better fate. Barry Trotz spoke about Varlamov’s game and season in a whole during his postgame interview.
“He’s had a little bit of a tough season by trying to catch, catch the moving train, and it must have been twice as hard for him because ‘A’ he started trying to catch up to everybody, ‘B’ we had, you know, not our normal defense package for a long time and then ‘C’ we got shut down a whole bunch so anytime he would get some momentum he got shut down. It was just one of those years.”
When we chatted with Semyon Varlamov come the end of the 2021-22 season, he made it clear that he wanted to play out the rest of his contract regardless of his role with the organization going forward.
“I’m not gonna lie. I was very happy to stay with this organization. I didn’t want to be moved anywhere,” Varlamov said. “You know, I got one more year with the Islanders, and I want to be here next year, and I wanted to finish this season, no matter what.”
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of the season and go play somewhere else. I believe in this team. I believe in the organization. I think this team is going in the right direction.”
As much as the Islanders faithful wanted to use his cap space to sign top names like Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri, and the latest in J.T. Miller, Varlamov is here and will be here to start the 2021-22 season.
The Islanders have gone the way of the tandem for many years, and although we are likely to not see a 50/50 split between Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, more like 75/25, Varlamov is still a valuable asset to this team.
When one thinks of goaltenders who carry the majority of the workload for their team, Andrei Vasilveskiy over in Tampa Bay comes to mind. He made 63 starts of his team’s 82 games, leaving 19 games for his backup Brian Elliott.
Sorokin made 52 starts in 2021-22, and one would think he would get close to 60 starts this upcoming season. That leaves Varlamov with around 22 starts, otherwise known as 44 potential points.
Varlamov’s tough 2021-22 season painted a picture that his career was over, that he had little to no gas left in the tank. But finally back healthy and with a projected stronger defense in front of him, what’s to say that Semyon Varlamov cannot return to the form he showcased in 2021-22.
Now gearing up for likely his final chapter, final season as a member of the New York Islanders, let’s see how his story ends.