The New York Islanders set their goaltending by inking Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, stop-gap contract.
Lou Lamoriello opted for a bridge type of deal that will see Varlamov likely embrace the role of 1/1A after the 2019-20 season. A four-year contract ensures a starter option for the next season and creates an opportunity to allow Ilya Sorokin to join his friend and countryman once his KHL deal expires after this season.
Naturally, the first thought goes to Robin Lehner, who stated he wanted to remain an Islander, no matter the term or price. Well, apparently, that wasn’t entirely true, since he reportedly turned down a two-year, $5 million deal.
What stings, even more, is that Lehner just inked a one-year, $5 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks just moments ago.
Varlamov’s contract is worth an average of $5 million per season.
If Lamoriello and Lehner could have agreed on a short-term, bridge deal, it would have come to fruition. With the season Lehner had after a Masterton trophy, sharing the William M. Jennings with Thomas Greiss and a Vezina nomination, there was belief he was seeking a long-term, high-salary contract.
This was not the case.
Just as Lehner signed with the Isles after a down season last year, Varlamov joins the Isles after posting a less-than-stellar .909 save percentage. In the defensive system put in place by Barry Trotz, his numbers should pick up no problem.
In fact, given the four-year term of Varlamov’s contract, that raises an interesting scenario; what if the Islanders gave him four years because they plan on trading Greiss?
Shedding two million in the backup goaltender department can be another interesting way to save money for top-six help down the line.
Something that serves as a sweetener is Varlamov’s relationship to Ilya Sorokin. The Isles’ top goalie prospect will see his KHL contract expire after this season, and by that time will be open to relocating to North America. Varlamov can serve as a mentor to the young goalie and the two already have a close relationship.
Lou Lamoriello has publicly stated he envisions Sorokin as the goaltender of the future, so regardless of it was going to be Lehner or Varlamov on a short-term deal, this was the plan he wanted to enact from the get-go.
It would be silly to expect Varlamov to be able to emulate the season Lehner had. Realistic expectations should see Varlamov get back to his 2017-18 form of posting around a .920 save percentage, especially under the leadership of Mitch Korn and Piero Greco.
The Islanders solved their goaltending issue for both the short-term and, presumably, long-term future in helping ease Sorokin’s transition next season.
It’s been an interesting day for the Islanders, and more off-the-grid moves will make for an interesting summer.