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Semyon Strategy: Should the Islanders Put Varlamov on Trade Block?

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New York Islanders, Semyon Varlamov

It has not been the start to the season that goaltender Semyon Varlamov envisioned after he and his New York Islander teammates came up just short of a Stanley Cup Final appearance last postseason.

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And at the age of 33, with one year remaining on his contract, should Varlamov be dealt elsewhere comes the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?

It’s an interesting question, as the answer has a lot to do with the state of the New York Islanders by March 21. The Islanders sit eighth in the Metropolitan Divison standings, 11 points out of the first wild-card spot in the East.

But as we have come to see with this Islander team over the last two regular seasons, even when missing the playoffs seems like the likely outcome, the unlikely occurs.

On the season, Varlamov is 1-5-1 with a 2.99 GAA and a .900 SV%. His goals saved above average (GSAA) is currently in the negatives at -4.19.

After an injury forced him to miss all of training camp and the start of the 2021-22 NHL season, Varlamov is still working on finding his game. He put together his best start of the season his last time out, as he stopped 40 of 41 against the Boston Bruins back on Dec. 16 for his first win of the campaign.

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz had no choice but to run Sorokin game in and game out to start the season. The second-year NHL netminder seemed up for the challenge as his play early on in the season during a scheduling obstacle (13-game road trip) showcased his no. 1 potential.

Trotz declared recently that it would be more of a three-to-one ratio in starts in favor of Sorokin, rather than a fifty-fifty split.

Varlamov has one year remaining on his contract at an AAV of $5 million, along with a moderate no-movement clause. That means Varlamov can create a list of 16 teams he does not want to play for, which the Islanders must abide by.

If the Islanders are indeed out of the playoff race by trade deadline day, moving Varlamov would provide more cap relief, with cap space rather significant with the stagnant cap.

Following the 2018-19 season, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello had a dilemma.

Rumors swirled about Sorokin, the Islanders’ top goaltending prospect, coming over after his contract was up with KHL’s CSKA Moscow the following season. He also had a netminder in Robin Lehner, who was coming off the most important season of his NHL career, and also his best.

Lamoriello needed to find a way to entice Sorokin to leave the KHL before the Islanders lost out on his rights, which played a part in why Varlamov, a Russian netminder, was given a four-year deal.

Varlamov could serve as the perfect mentor for Sorokin, to not just help him adjust to a new lifestyle in the NHL, but also life in North America.

Not only did Sorokin end up coming over during the 2020 bubble postseason up in Canada, but Varlamov’s play had made the contract worthwhile.

In his first season on the island in 2019-20, Varlamov posted a .914 SV% and a 2.62 GAA in 45 games. He upped his numbers that postseason, with a .921 SV% and a 2.14 GAA as the Islanders made it to the semi-finals for the first time since 1993.

Last season, the 2020-21 campaign, Varlamov was one of the best netminders in the NHL. Snubbed of a Vezina candidacy, Varlamov posted a 2.04 GAA with a .929 SV% and a league-leading seven shutouts.

Varlamov had a 2.56 GAA with a .922 SV% in the magical postseason run that ended in Game 7 of the semi-finals.

Varlamov’s play and leadership allowed Sorokin to learn and grow at his own pace, rather than being forced into a “sink or swim” situation.

If Varlamov is moved, a backup will need to be brought over unless the Islanders want to see what AHL netminder Jakub Skarek can do. The 22-year old netminder is 7-8-2 with a .901 SV% and a 3.10 GAA in 18 games with Bridgeport this season.

The likes of Arizona’s Scott Wedgewood ($825 K), Pittsburgh’s Louis Domingue ($750 K), and Buffalo’s Dustin Tokarski ($725 K) could be potential, cost-effective options.

Although you can never really count the Islanders out until they are mathematically eliminated, it gets to a point where you have to play the odds.

Keep an eye on Varlamov as we inch closer to this year’s trade deadline.

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