There are many reasons why the New York Islanders were successful last season, but the biggest may have been their goaltending. From a team that allowed the most goals two seasons ago, the Islanders ended up allowing the fewest during the 2018-19 season with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss leading the way.
However, the Islanders did not re-sign Lehner after the two sides were unable to reach an agreement in free agency, much to the dismay of many Islander fans. They offered Lehner a longer contract at two years for $10 million, but Lehner felt like the Islanders didn’t give him enough time to make his decision, leading to him heading to Chicago and signing with the Blackhawks.
Lehner was brought to the Islanders last year with many question marks. During his time in Buffalo, he faced many obstacles with his mental health. Coming to the Islanders with the help of Mitch Korn, the Islanders goaltending director, Lehner finished the 2018-19 season as a Vezina Trophy Finalist and the winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. After his departure, the Islanders were in need of another goaltender for the upcoming season.
Hence, the Islanders somewhat surprisingly singed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal. While the Islanders were definitely interested in Sergei Bobrovsky, they did not want to commit to seven years as they feel like they already have their future goalie, Ilya Sorokin, playing in his final season under contract in the KHL.
Varlamov has spent the past eight seasons in Colorado with a brief stint in Washington before that. He comes to New York with a 213-169-50 record, but has not played more than 50 games in each of the past three seasons. His best season came in 2013-14 when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist after winning 41 of his 60 starts with a career-high .927 save percentage.
While the Islanders are going to be paying Varlamov $5 million for the next four years, it would no surprise to see a lot of Thomas Greiss this season. The German is coming off his best season after splitting time with Lehner. After giving up nearly four goals a game two seasons ago, Greiss had a 2.28 goals-against average with five shutouts. Lehner and Greiss won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals as a tandem. Greiss also has shown the ability to win in the playoffs after he carried the Islanders to a playoff series win in 2016 against the Florida Panthers. Greiss will be entering his final season before free agency, making it even sweeter if the Islanders can bring Sorokin in following this season.
Ironically, Sorokin will likely take over as the starter for his good friend Varlamov down the road. The Islanders hope bringing in Varlamov can convince their young goaltender to make the transition to the NHL as the two communicate with each other often. Sorokin is already off to a good start this season with CSKA Moscow, winning two of his first three games and allowing just two goals.
He had one of the greatest seasons in KHL history in net posting a 1.16 goals-against average and .950 save percentage last season. He went on to help his team win the Garagin Cup.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers Goalies
The final candidates that the Islanders can hope can make an impact are Christopher Gibson and Jared Coreau. Gibson came over to the Islanders from the Toronto Marlies in the Michael Grabner trade. While Gibson has struggled in his brief stints with the Islanders, he has been successful in Bridgeport with the Sound Tigers. He also got a good look in the Islanders preseason debut playing roughly 30 minutes and not allowing any goals.
For Coreau, it is not very likely that he will spend much time in the NHL, but the 6-foot-6 netminder brings some NHL experience to the Islanders in case of an emergency. He has played in 21 NHL games in two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and provides the Islanders with much-needed depth in Bridgeport.
Other than this past season, the Islanders have had major goaltending struggles. They have gone through a handful of goalies ever since drafting Roberto Luongo and Rick DiPietro in a span of three years. While it will be hard to repeat last season’s performance, the Islanders definitely seemed to have that position in good hands in the near future.