Since the emergence of Russian goaltender Ilya Sorokin, the New York Islanders have been blessed with one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, with 34-year-old Semyon Varlamov making up the second half of the tandem on Long Island. But despite his consistent play, the Islanders should be looking to move the pending unrestricted free agent ahead of the trade deadline this season. The veteran netminder would be an excellent addition for playoff-bound teams looking to shore up their goaltending.
Ilya Sorokin Can Handle a Heavier Workload
With their current tandem, the Islanders have been gifted the option of not overworking one goaltender. However, with Varlamov sidelined earlier this season, 27-year-old Sorokin demonstrated he is more than capable of carrying a heavier workload. Sorokin made six consecutive starts from Dec. 19 to Jan. 5 while the veteran goaltender was on the shelf due to injury. In those six games, the Islanders posted a 3-2-1 record, with Sorokin posting a .942 SV% and a 1.66 GAA during the stretch. One could argue that the sensational netminder even excelled when given a heavier workload.
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Now in his third NHL season, Sorokin is proving that he can provide the Islanders with consistent, elite performances between the pipes. He played a career-high 52 games last season, and while many NHL franchises opt to use an even split between goaltenders, the Russian netminder seems capable of playing a 60/20 split should the team decide to move Varlamov. With 29 games remaining on the Islanders’ schedule, Sorokin would be able to shoulder much of the workload as the team makes their push for a return to playoff action.
Acquire Assets Now or Get Nothing Later
While having their current one-two punch in between the pipes has been incredibly beneficial, the Islanders risk losing Varlamov to the market this summer for nothing if they can’t move him ahead of the trade deadline. Painful memories come to mind of former captain John Tavares jetting on the franchise, leaving them with no return to help fill the void left by his departure. While many fans may have been disgruntled by the high price paid to land Bo Horvat, general manager Lou Lamoriello can soften the blow by trading their aging goaltender.
When looking at the value of Varlamov in the trade market, we look back at recent goaltender moves to see the price of a capable starting goalie. During the offseason, the New Jersey Devils sent the Washington Capitals second, and third-round draft picks in exchange for Vitek Vanecek. The move’s paid dividends for the Devils, as Vanecek has had a great season there.
However, at the time of the trade, Vanecek had a.908 SV% and a 2.68 GAA in 79 career appearances. At 27 years old, Vanecek’s age also increased the Capitals’ return in the deal. The Colorado Avalanche sent three draft picks, third and fifth-round picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and a third-round pick in the 2023 Entry Draft, in exchange for the services of goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks sent former Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury to the Minnesota Wild at last season’s trade deadline in exchange for a conditional second-round pick.
Related: Islanders Linked to Marquee Forwards Ahead of Trade Deadline
Varlamov will be strictly a rental addition should the Islanders move him. Varlamov is 34 years old with no prior Stanley Cup championship to his name, so his return would be slightly lower than those mentioned above. Lamoriello could aim to pick up a couple of draft picks for the netminders, but a return of a second and fifth-round pick may not be out of the question. Another prospective option for the Islanders’ general manager could be adding another roster player in the potential trade.
Potential Trade Destinations for Varlamov
While the Oilers went out and signed Jack Campbell to a long-term deal during the offseason, the former Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie has not met expectations this season. Though Stuart Skinner represented the Pacific Division in the recent NHL All-Star game, his 2.92 GAA and .914 SV% leave more to be desired from the Oilers’ perspective.
A potential return for the Islanders would be pending restricted free agent Jesse Puljujarvi. The former fourth-overall draft pick has fallen out of favour in Edmonton; however, the cap-strapped Oilers would need to clear some additional money or have the Islanders retain some of Varlamov’s salary for any potential move to take place. Should the Islanders retain any salary, it would hinder them from adding another significant roster piece as they continue their playoff push.
Puljujarvi could benefit significantly from a change of scenery, and the once highly-touted prospect would fit in nicely somewhere within the top-9 of the Islanders’ forward group. In 308 career games, the 6-foot-4, 201-pound Finnish right wing has scored 50 goals and 58 assists for 108 career points. The hulking forward also brings some physicality to his game, as he has 99 hits in 49 games this season and 405 hits over his six-year NHL career.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings may be another team interested in acquiring the services of the Russian netminder. While Pheonix Copley has put together an impressive 15-3-1 record with the Kings since seemingly taking over the starting job, his underlying numbers aren’t great. He has a 2.92 GAA and a .897 SV%, and with no playoff experience on his resume, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Kings are actively looking to bolster their goaltending situation.
When gauging a potential return from the Kings, they have a surplus on the right side of their defensive corps, making one of either Matt Roy or Sean Walker available in the hypothetical trade. If the Islanders could land one of the right-handed defencemen from the Kings, it would open the door for them to trade pending UFA Scott Mayfield.
Roy, 27, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Kings in the 2015 Entry Draft. He is more known for his defensive play, leading the Kings in blocked shots this season with 103 and ranking third in hits with 86. He has scored 16 goals and 55 assists for 71 points in 259 career games.
Walker, 28, has 15 goals and 48 assists for 63 points in 208 career games. His contract has one year remaining and carries a slightly lower cap hit than Roy’s at $2.65 million per year.
The Seattle Kraken seemed destined to clinch the first postseason berth in franchise history this season. While they have had an impressive run through this point in the season, the club is still marred by less-than-average goaltending. GM Ron Francis may look to strengthen his team’s most glaring weakness, and Varlamov could be a potential solution.
If the Islanders were to make a swap with the Kraken, there are few roster pieces that fit the bill in terms of a potential return. One player that could be a trade candidate from the Kraken is pending UFA Ryan Donato, although Donato is another center, and the Islanders are deep at the center ice position. Donato has played wing in the past and would provide some additional scoring for the club in a bottom-six role. The 26-year-old has 63 goals and 65 assists in 296 career games.
However, the Kraken hold three second-round draft picks in this summer’s draft and could be willing to use one of them in an effort to solidify their goaltending. Should the Kraken be interested in Varlamov’s services, it’s most likely Lamoriello will add to the Islanders’ depleted draft pick pile for the upcoming draft.
Modified No Movement Clause Limits Islanders’ Options
Of course, at the end of the day, Varlamov has a 16-team no-trade list, which the Islanders would have to abide by or get the veteran to waive in order to make a deal. When analyzing potential destinations, it’s hard to see why Varlamov wouldn’t waive his partial NMC in exchange for a chance to play some playoff hockey this spring. Moving to another team where he would be the bonafide No. 1 goalie also gives the veteran a chance to display his skill set ahead of entering free agency this summer. One thing that is clear for the Islanders is that Sorokin is the man of the future, and they should do everything in their power to gain some form of assets before losing Varlamov to free agency.