The New York Islanders’ season, their last at Nassau Coliseum, was one to remember. It started with no fans in attendance due to the pandemic, but slowly, spectators arrived and cheered on their team as they made another run to the semifinals. They may have lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but many of their players stepped up during the season. Here’s a look at the 2020-21 award winners.
Team MVP: Semyon Varlamov
Varlamov was sensational all season, splitting time with Ilya Sorokin. He had a 19-11-4 record with a goals against average (GAA) of 2.04 and a save percentage of .929. He also added seven shutouts in his 36 games.
Varlamov went down with an injury in the final regular-season game against the Boston Bruins. In their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he played in only two games and lost both before Sorokin stepped in. Varlamov then played exceptionally well. The Islanders had trouble scoring goals in their series against the Lightning, but he allowed only three goals in the final two games after he was pulled in Game 4. However, the Islanders came up short against Tampa Bay and allowed a shorthanded goal in Game 7 that cost them the series.
Best Rookie: Ilya Sorokin
Sorokin began his first NHL season with the Islanders after five seasons in the KHL. He had a rough performance against the New York Rangers, but after that, he was spectacular, winning 13 of 19 games. Like Varlamov, Sorokin allowed just over two goals per game and had a .917 GAA. In the first round of the playoffs, Sorokin had a perfect 4-0 record, including two overtime wins. His best performance was in Game 5 when he made 48 saves before Josh Bailey scored in overtime. He stopped 150 of 159 shots in the series and will likely earn more playing time in 2021-22.
Best Defenseman: Adam Pelech
Adam Pelech has cemented himself as one of the top defensemen in the league. He had a terrific season and was one of the biggest reasons the Islanders were successful, as he routinely matched up against the opposition’s top line and routinely had to shut down players like Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brayden Point. He also scored a beautiful goal in Round 2 against the Bruins.
All this came after Pelech suffered what might have been a season-ending injury in 2019-20. He came back for the 2020 Playoffs in the bubble and scored four goals and 14 points during the regular season. He was also a plus-15 and a big part of the Islanders’ penalty kill, which ranked sixth in the league at 83.7 percent.
Most Disappointing: Power Play
New York finished the regular season with an 18.8 percent success rate on the power play, the fourth-lowest among teams that made the postseason. Head coach Barry Trotz often relied on rookie Noah Dobson to quarterback the man advantage, and the Islanders had a tough time entering the zone, which hurt their chances of setting up players like Ryan Pulock and Oliver Wahlstrom in the slot.
New York was also without Anders Lee for much of the season, who provides the team with a big body in front of the net. After a strong start on the power play to open the postseason, the Islanders went 1-17 and allowed the game-winning goal in Game 7 while on the power play in the semifinal.
Most Surprising: Nick Leddy
If not for a slow start in April, Nick Leddy was in contention to rank among the top defensemen in scoring. He finished with 31 points, which was the fifth-best on the team overall. The former Chicago Blackhawk started to show his speed and often joined the rush, and though his defensive game was sub-par at times, he seemed to mesh with Scott Mayfield after playing with Johnny Boychuk earlier in his career. Leddy also picked up six points in the postseason and was a plus-2.
The Best Salary Cap Value Award: Anthony Beauvillier
Anthony Beauvillier is a restricted free agent this offseason, but there is no indication he won’t be back. He was one of the most consistent players all season, and at $2.4 million this past year, New York benefited from his play on the second line.
Beauvillier scored 15 goals and had 28 points. He also seemed to have the touch in overtime, as he had a game-winner in the regular season as well as in the postseason. It won’t be long before he gets paid, similar to what Mat Barzal did last offseason, which was a three-year deal worth $21 million.
The Islanders weren’t up for any major awards this season, but they have the talent to compete for them. The goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but maybe next season, we’ll see some Islanders challenge for NHL awards.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.