The New York Islanders have one of the strongest goaltending tandems in the NHL, as Ilya Sorokin has proven to be one of the most talented goaltenders in the league, while Semyon Varlamov has bounced back strong after his 2021-22 struggles.
With the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline less than a week away, March 3, and the New York Islanders fighting for a playoff spot, general manager Lou Lamoriello has a decision to make.
To trade pending unrestricted free agent Semyon Varlamov or to not? That is the question.
Varlamov, in his final year of a four-year deal, owns a 10-7-2 record, with a .911 SV% and a 2.82 GAA in 19 appearances.
Lamoriello never lets contract information slip through the cracks, and there is a chance that he’s come to terms with Varlamov on an extension to serve as Sorokin’s backup moving forward.
If Varlamov was willing to take a 50 percent pay cut from $5 million annually to $2.5 million for a two to three-year deal, that is something that the Islanders should certainly do.
But if no contract is done, the Islanders could get a first-round pick for Varlamov on the open market, with there being a few playoff teams in need of starting netminders or complementary pieces.
The Islanders could also move Varlamov and re-sign him in the offseason, a power move, if you will.
We here at NYI Hockey Now wrote about moving Varlamov not too long ago, along with defenseman Scott Mayfield, regardless of the standings situation.
One of the biggest question marks in regards to trading Varlamov was who would serve as Sorokin’s backup for the rest of the season.
In theory, a Varlamov trade would not just bring back a pick but also a backup goaltender from whichever team he is shipped to.
But here’s why the backup goaltender position doesn’t really matter following the deadline.
There will be 18 games remaining on the Islanders’ schedule post-deadline, three sets of back-to-back games.
Now, Ilya Sorokin has proven the ability to play both, and if the Islanders stay in the race, there’s a strong chance Lambert would go to him, depending on how he feels.
Lambert’s used him twice in back-to-back situations this season, so it’s not crazy he would use him again, especially in crunch time.
But let’s say, because all three back-to-backs are less than 24 hours apart, that Lambert goes to his backup for those three games.
We saw that this past weekend, where Sorokin played Friday night in the 5-4 comeback win over the Penguins, before Varlamov played 22 hours later against the Boston Bruins.
Besides those three back-to-back situations, there’s no reason why Sorokin would not play the other 15.
Varlamov has been strong, but when Sorokin plays like the way he did Monday night, in the most important game for the Islanders to date, there’s no question that he has to be between the pipes as much as possible down the stretch if the Islanders want to make the postseason.
Sorokin made a handful of highlight-reel goals, including the Save of the Year, robbing Kris Letang for what would have been a two-goal lead for the Penguins early in the second.
That’s not to say that Varlamov hasn’t come up large for New York this season, but Sorokin just has another level to his game that only a select few netminders in this league can get to.
If Ilya Sorokin can stay locked in for the rest of the season, the Islanders will have a fighting chance at a postseason birth.
But what happens if Sorokin gets hurt?
Wouldn’t being without Varlamov then prove fatal?
It’s going to come down to the wire for the Islanders to make the postseason. They are without Mat Barzal for a while.
They are currently down Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Josh Bailey, and Cal Clutterbuck, along with Oliver Wahlstrom, who is believed to be done for the season.
If Sorokin goes down, despite Varlamov’s skillset, the Islanders’ chances of making the playoffs and then winning a few rounds becomes a rather difficult task–a task already difficult with Sorokin.
If the Islanders are going to make the postseason, Sorokin will have to be the guy, and with the Islanders needing to recoup assets, which are slim at the moment, it makes the most sense to move Semyon Varlamov.