The New York Islanders had clear ‘Plan A’ targets in free agency, and now we’re seeing them lock up their contingency options. Missing out on Artemi Panarin meant GM Lou Lamoriello retained the Isles’ captain, Anders Lee. Failing to keep goaltender Robin Lehner meant inking one of the few other starting-caliber goalies still on the market: Semyon Varlamov.
The Islanders have signed Varlamov, 31, to a four-year contract worth $5 million. On paper, he’s no Lehner, but Lehner’s value was also drastically changed playing under goaltending guru Mitch Korn, so it’s possible Varlamov experiences a similar transformation, as did his new battery mate Thomas Greiss, who was just as good as Lehner last year.
Since coming to the Colorado Avalanche as part of a trade with the Washington Capitals eight years ago today, Varlamov spent most of his career as an above-average starter. In 2013-14, he finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in MVP voting. Across his eight seasons with the Avs, he ranked 27th in save percentage among the 70 goaltenders with at least 100 games played. Across the past three seasons, among the 77 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played at 5-on-5, he’s 41st in goals saved above average per 60. He rates as roughly a league-average goalie, though he earns a few extra points given he ranks top-25 in expected goals per 60 over that same span, having played for some defensively shaky Colorado teams. Varlamov hasn’t proven the most durable in recent seasons. He missed the end of the regular season and playoffs with a knee injury in 2017-18, and hip surgery cost him the last 40 games of 2016-17. So it’s possible that, if healthy, Varlamov could be better than expected as an Islander.
He’s expected to form a tandem with Greiss. The split in starts between Lehner and Greiss this past season was 43 to 39, and a similar divide between Greiss and Varlamov is a fair guess. It’s worth noting Greiss enters the final season of his contract and that Isles mega-prospect netminder Ilya Sorokin’s KHL contract happens to expire at the exact same time. There’s a strong chance we see an all-Russian tandem of Sorokin and Varlamov manning the Islanders net by the start of 2020-21. The two netminders are reportedly friends, so there would be a natural fit for a mentor/apprentice relationship.
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