When the calendar turned to July 1 and NHL free agency opened up, it could not have started out any worse for the New York Islanders. There were countless reports that the Isles were closing in on a deal for Artemi Panarin. It was not to be but the Islanders can still have a winning off-season.
July 1 has not been kind to the New York Islanders, Last year on July 1, John Tavares left the Island for his hometown team in Toronto. This year there were strong indications by many of the big NHL insiders who believed that Artemi Panarin would sign with the Islanders. Instead, Panarin signed with the dreaded Rangers at the last minute.
When Panarin signed with the Blue Shirts it appeared in addition to losing out on him, the Isles would also lose their captain, Anders Lee. Fortunately, that was not the case.
Adding Panarin would have been a Homerun. He is an elite offensive winger and that is something the Islanders are severely lacking. The combination of Panarin playing with Mathew Barzal would have been incredible. At the end of the day, it didn’t happen.
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However, that just brings the Isles forward group (minus Valtteri Filppula) back to even from last years roster. When the Isles score enough they are extremely hard to beat. Last year when the Isles scored at least three goals in a game they went 37-2-2 in the regular season and were undefeated in the playoffs.
However, the Isles were either shutout or scored just one goal in 21 games during the regular season (25%). In the playoff games against Carolina, the Isles scored less than three goals in every game.
Now it’s simple for what Lou Lamoriello has to do. He needs to add a top-six scoring forward. Other than Ryan Dzingel the scoring forwards are off the free agent board. A trade is a more likely scenario and the Isles have assets to get a deal done.
It would have been great to bring back Robin Lehner but Lamoriello did not want to go too far with him in regards to term. Lehner will always be remembered very fondly by the blue and orange faithful.
Semyon Varlamov is someone Lou had his eye on since he took the Islander job. Last off-season Lamoriello tried to bring over the Russian net minder in a trade with Colorado.
The Islander goalie coaching staff led by Mitch Korn were high on Varlamov and that should give the fan base a lot of confidence in this move.
In addition, Varlamov is a buddy with one of the Islander top prospects, goaltender Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin has one more year to go on his KHL deal and hopefully, after next season, he will finally come to Long Island.
Sorokin is one of the top goalie prospects in the NHL (ranked 39th by the Hockey News in their 2019 Future Watch issue) and has a ceiling of a franchise goaltender. Lamoriello called Varlamov – Sorkin relationship a “fringe benefit” to bringing him on board.
Lou has work to do in regards to adding scoring and deciding what to do with all the defensemen he has both on the main roster and in Bridgeport. Also, Lou needs to open up a spot for Noah Dobson. Lou’s to-do list isn’t finished yet.