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Islanders Could Mimic 2016 Yankees with Pending UFA Semyon Varlamov

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New York Islanders Semyon Varlamov
New York Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov against the Ottawa Senators (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)

As we inch closer to the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has to decide to buy and give this group one last hurrah or start retooling. If Lamoriello chooses to sell, netminder Semyon Varlamov would have a few potential suitors.

Semyon Varlamov is in the final year of a four-year deal with an annual average value of $5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent come season’s end.

Could the New York Islanders pull a move out of the New York Yankees playbook, as we saw back in 2016?

If you are unfamiliar with the trade the Yankees made with the Chicago Cubs, they sent elite close Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for top prospect Gleybor Torres and a few other players. The Cubs won the World Series that season and in the offseason, the Yankees re-signed Chapman.

Why would the Islanders do this?

With Ilya Sorokin, an elite goaltender in his prime, being paid $4 million annually, the need to spend close to $5 million on a backup is ludicrous. But it sounds like Varlamov wants to stay on Long Island further than this year, per an interview with the New York Post.

“I would love to stay here and then extend the contract,” Varlamov told The Post back on Thursday following practice.

He went on to say that he loved being on Long Island and loved his teammates but knew that he did not have complete control of the situation.

The Islanders could use Sorokin like the Tampa Bay Lightning used Andrei Vasilievskiy last year, giving him 63 starts, and sign a cheap, veteran backup for under $2 million like the New York Rangers are paying Jaroslav Halak ($1.5 M), or the Pittsburgh Penguins with Casey DeSmith ($1.8 M).

But given how competitive this Metropolitan Division is, when Sorokin isn’t playing, the Islanders will need someone they trust between the pipes to help collect points. Varlamov has outperformed his contract and is showing that he still has the skill to be an above-average netminder.

If Varlamov was willing to take a pay cut for around $2.5 million annually over two years, that should entice the Islanders.
Now for the market and Varlamov’s contract.

The 34-year-old netminder has a modified no-trade clause attached to his deal, as he has submitted a list of 16 teams he can’t be moved to unless he waives his clause.

At last year’s trade deadline, there were a few teams interested in Varlamov, with one team willing to pay the price of a first-round pick, a league source told NYI Hockey Now.

That was during a season where Varlamov struggled, ending with a 2.91 GAA with a .911 SV%.

Varlamov has bounced back this season, with a 2.67 GAA and a .917 SV% behind a shaky defense, with offensive support hard to come by.

The Islanders could get a first-round pick, at a minimum, for Varlamov’s skillset.

In his last start on Saturday, Varlamov was phenomenal, stopping 43 of 44, with one jaw-dropping save, in a 2-1 overtime win over the Vegas Golden Knights. It allowed the Islanders to go into the break on a two-game winning streak after what was a disastrous January where playoff hopes were dwindling–and fast.

There are teams around the NHL, playoff teams, that could use his talent.

One team that could use Varlamov is the Los Angeles Kings, who find themselves in their place in the Pacific, with the Edmonton Oilers right on their tail. Jonathan Quick has struggled with a 3.41 GAA and an .881 SV%. His counterpart Cal Petersen has played to a 3.75 GAA and an .868 SV%.

The problem is the Kings are projected to have only $285,000 available at the deadline. The Islanders could retain 50 percent of Varlamov’s deal ($2.5 M), but if the Kings want to bring Valramov in, they will need to clear cap of their own–around $2.25 million.

The Kings do not have any pending UFAs and would have to part ways with a few players that have played vital roles this season, But strong goaltending is needed to accomplish anything in the playoffs.

Another team that needs goaltending is the Edmonton Oilers, who are just an above-average netminder away from being a Stanley Cup champion. Connor McDavid is putting up video game numbers again, with 92 points in 50 games, with the team just two points back of the Kings for the third in the Pacific.

The Oilers just signed Jack Campbell to a three-year deal worth $5 million, but Stuart Skinner, who is making $750 K this season, has won the starting job but sits with a 2.92 GAA and a .914 SV%.

The Oilers are expected to have $1.125 million in deadline cap space and could move depth pieces in Derek Ryan and Matias Janmark (both making $1.25 M) to get the job done, with the 50 percent retained.

Now we believe that most of, if not all, Canadian teams are on Varlamov’s no-move list, but, as mentioned, Varlamov’s situation this season is different.

Last season, Varlamov would have had to stay put for the 2022-23 season wherever he was dealt to, given one year remaining on his contract. But this season, he can try and win a cup and then come back or go wherever he wants. That was likely a reason teams were willing to pay the first-round price tag.

But you never know what desperate teams are willing to do.

Both the Kings and the Oilers do have first-round picks at their disposal.

Other teams that could use goaltending would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Tristan Jarry battling injuries and DeSmith playing inconsistently. The Buffalo Sabres could upgrade, but the tandem of Craig Anderson and Ukko-Pekka-Luukkonen has been solid enough.

The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline is not until March 3, and a lot can change in the standings. But there are not many goaltenders of Semyon Varlamov’s status available, and if the Islanders mimicked the 2016 Yankees, they could take true advantage of the potential situation.