The New York Islanders have been carried by their goaltending in recent seasons. Last year, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin helped carry the team to the Stanley Cup Semifinal. This season, the goaltending duo has kept the Islanders in the majority of their games with a .919 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.64 goals-against average (GAA) on 848 shots. While Sorokin has emerged as the starter this season, starting 19 of the 26 games, Varlamov remains a key piece in the roster and has provided valuable starts.
The 33-year-old Varlamov has been a pivotal part of the team’s success and has particularly helped the Islanders reach the Semifinal in consecutive seasons while being the calming presence in the net. It’s hard to see the Islanders roster without him on it, and it’s unlikely the front office would move on from their veteran goaltender. However, with the team in last place in the Metropolitan Division in a season where a lot has gone wrong, it’s possible that the team could hit the reset button and attempt to build a younger roster with more depth. Moreover, a talented veteran goaltender like Varlamov could bring in a strong return, especially when traded to a Stanley Cup contending team.
The glaring weakness on the Edmonton Oilers roster is their goaltending, a primary reason for the team allowing 3.37 goals per game this season. A team built to win the Stanley Cup led by two of the game’s best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Furthermore, the Oilers have talented players throughout the roster, including Darnell Nurse, Zach Hyman, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but are missing that goaltender that could put the team over the top, and unfortunately, it’s cost them in recent seasons.
The Oilers are hoping Mike Smith can emerge as the starter for a playoff run. And while they have Mikko Koskinen on the roster, the team could add a goaltender that has recently carried the Islanders in consecutive Stanley Cup playoff runs in the net. The Oilers are going to be active at the trade deadline, especially if they are near the top of the Pacific Division and could trade multiple draft selections to the Islanders for a star goaltender like Varlamov.
The Colorado Avalanche have been on the doorstep of the Stanley Cup in each of the last three seasons but have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs. This season, the Avalanche once again have one of the best teams in the NHL with an offense that is scoring 4.22 goals per game, led by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Norris Trophy frontrunner Cale Makar. Unfortunately, the Avalanche defense has struggled immensely this season, allowing 3.37 goals per game with poor play in net being a primary reason why.
The Avalanche acquired Darcy Kuemper in the offseason with the hope that he could replace Vezina Trophy runner up Philipp Grubauer, who signed a six-year, $35.4 million contract with the Seattle Kraken. Kuemper has started 19 of the team’s 27 games and has a .907 SV% and a 2.77 GAA on 539 shots. And with the Avalanche defensive unit allowing quick scoring chances, the veteran goaltenders performances could ultimately cost the team in a playoff run.
Varlamov played the majority of his career with the Avalanche as their starting goaltender for eight seasons. While he has a modified no-movement clause, making it possible that the 33-year-old goaltender would veto a trade to his former team. However, if the right offer is in place and the Avalanche remain near the top of the Western Conference while the Islanders struggle to make up ground in the Eastern Conference, the veteran goaltender could return to his former team and help them win the Stanley Cup.
The Boston Bruins would be a surprise team to acquire a goaltender at the trade deadline, especially from the Islanders, who are also fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have only won 14 of their 26 games but have a talented roster led by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy that is arguably a goaltender away from making a Stanley Cup run. Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins’ 23-year-old goaltender, is having a respectable season in the net with a .917 SV% and a 2.29 GAA on 386 shots. Veteran Tuukka Rask could return to the roster and give the goaltending unit the necessary boost, but acquiring a proven goaltender like Varlamov might still be the optimal move to provide stability in the net.
Other Possible Trade Destinations for Varlamov
If the Islanders start to actively search for trade partners at the trade deadline, a lot more teams will look to acquire a goaltender like Varlamov. The Vegas Golden Knights already have former Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner on their roster. But to help the unit, they could acquire another veteran goaltender, and Varlamov could help the team get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup.
Moreover, a trade might not happen at the deadline. Instead, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office will look to move on from the veteran goaltender this offseason, and teams looking to compete in the upcoming seasons will be able to put together the best offer.
Ultimately, the Islanders will have to decide on Varlamov. It’s possible they keep the veteran goaltender on the roster, especially if they intend to remain competitive. But if they need to take a step back, a trade could help the team with a minor rebuild and allow the roster to get younger.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.