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Islanders: How Much Longer Can Semyon Varlamov Be A Starting Goalie?

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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In his first year with the Islanders, Semyon Varlamov was decent in net as a starter. How much longer can he keep that up?

This year was Semyon Varlamov’s first year in net for the New York Islanders after signing a four-year deal back on July 1. He was brought in to replace Robin Lehner, and help get Ilya Sorokin to come over, but mostly it was to serve as the Isles starter.

In 45 games, Varlamov had a .914 save percentage and a 2.62 goals against average. For context, of goalies who started 20 or more games, Varly ranks 23rd in save percentage and 16th in goals against average of 57 qualifying goalies.

He wasn’t phenomenal but he was about an average goalie in the NHL during the 2019-2020 season. What I wanted to do was try to see how much longer, Varlamov can be considered a starting option for the Isles.

Next season will be his age 32 season, and according to this article from Hockey Graphs in 2014, goalies usually begin a steeper decline around his age.

goalie-aging-curve
goalie-aging-curve

Via: Hockey Graphs

Between 25 and 27.5 seems to be the sweet spot and then we start to notice a steeper decline between 30 and 32.5 before it just drops off a cliff from age 35 to 37.5. According to the projection from this aging curve, we can expect roughly a -0.002 change in save percentage.

A .912 save percentage is still functional in the NHL, that would be about average. It’s the year after that, age 33 where he would be projected to drop under a .910 save percentage which is no longer average starter material.

Luckily, the Islanders have a plan. Ilya Sorokin should be with the team next year and by 2021-2022 it is likely safe to assume that Sorokin should be able to take over as the starter.

But, if we’re playing the game, and since Semyon Varlamov is under contract for three more years, it’s safe to assume that the Isles would be in trouble if Varly was to remain the starter over those three years.

Yes, he would be finished with his contract by the time the daunting age 35 decline begins but betting on Varlamov to give you league average goalie numbers in two to three years probably isn’t very wise.

Varly is likely a candidate for a buyout before the 2022-2023 season. The Isles would save $2.67 million on the cap that year and then have to take a $1.3 million cap hit the following year, saving a total of $1.3 million on the final year of his contract.

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A $5 million 34-year-old backup doesn’t sound very cost-efficient anyway, but if Varlamov can be a solid starter for two-years and help recruit Ilya Sorokin then I guess the contract was worth it

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