As the Edmonton Oilers continue to spiral further and further out of control, it is becoming more obvious by the minute that Ken Holland choosing to go with a Mike Smith – Mikko Koskinen tandem was a major mistake. Despite that mistake, the Oilers general manager recently held a press conference and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to acquire a new netminder, and made it clear that he is not interested in trading for a rental.
With his comments on not trading for rental players, it seemingly rules out one player many Oilers fans were hoping for in Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. With those rumors being put to rest, fans have been looking elsewhere for a goalie Holland may be interested in; one who has term left on his deal. While there are a few who are available, there is one who should be of particular interest to the Oilers in Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov Checks All Boxes
For an Oilers team that has lacked a legitimate number-one goaltender for a long time, Varlamov would be a Godsend for fans. The 33-year-old has been a very good starting goalie in the league for plenty of time now, backed up by his 2.63 goals-against average (GAA) and .916 save percentage (SV%) throughout his 540-game career.
Varlamov started the 2021-22 season on the injured reserve, which is why he has appeared in just 11 games to date. Despite playing behind a struggling team, however, he has performed reasonably well with a 2.61 GAA and a .917 SV%. Just a season prior, his .929 SV% ranked second amongst all goalies in the NHL who appeared in 10 or more games.
While there is no denying Varlamov is a much better option than what the Oilers currently have, Holland still seemed hesitant to trade for a goalie, especially one that was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The good news here is that Varlamov still has an additional season on his contract, and has a relatively team-friendly cap hit of $5 million.
Sorokin Makes Varlamov Expendable
You may be thinking if Varlamov is such a good goalie and has a very reasonable contract, why on earth would the Islanders want to trade him? The reason has nothing to do with Varlamov himself, but rather his current goaltender partner in Ilya Sorokin. The 26-year-old, who is just in his second NHL season, is viewed as one of the most promising goalies in the entire league and has plenty of great years ahead of him.
Sorokin himself has a very team-friendly contract with an average annual value of $4 million. While both his and Varlamov’s deals are solid, that still combines to $9 million in the crease. With the Islanders’ struggles this season, they would be better off to find a cheaper backup for Sorokin and use the $5 million from Varlamov to address other issues this summer.
Perfect Stop Gap for Skinner
Though his most recent performance against the Ottawa Senators wasn’t one to marvel over, many believe that Stuart Skinner has what it takes to be the goalie of the future for the Oilers. However, it isn’t fair to throw that role at him just yet, especially with the current state of this team. Giving him a chance to learn from and likely back up Varlamov next season could go a long way in having him ready to be a starting goalie for 2023-24.
While acquiring Varlamov may not be the simplest of tasks for Holland, it would provide a huge morale boost to his current group, and also allow them to play with far more confidence in knowing that they have a bonafide starting goalie behind them. With Mikko Koskinen’s deal set to expire at season’s end, all it would take would be to move on from Mike Smith. They would then be set with a Varlamov Skinner tandem next season. That duo would undoubtedly perform better than what they have gotten from their current duo to this point in 2021-22.
Varlamov Worth the Price to Pay
Given Varlamov’s reputation as a very solid starting goalie, he won’t come cheap to the Oilers. They would likely be forced to part ways with at least one solid prospect and a first-round pick. However, this team is at a point where they can no longer be waiting for prospects to develop, as it is taking away from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s prime. The time to act is now, and Holland needs to figure out a way to make this happen.
With the recent news that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been placed on long-term injured reserve, this opens up enough cap room to make this deal happen. Of course, when Nuge is set to return they would need to free up money, which could happen by getting a team to take on the contract of Zack Kassian or even perhaps Koskinen himself. Who knows, if you add enough to the package for Varlamov, the Islanders themselves may be willing to take on Koskinen’s contract for the remainder of the season. Regardless of who gets moved and how they make it work money-wise, the time is now for Holland to get this done and save the Oilers 2021-22 season.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.