The New York Islanders handed out a number of long-term contracts on Saturday. Yet, it was the shortest deal that was most surprising in some ways and least surprising in others.
The Islanders had made it clear they wanted veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov back as Ilya Sorokin's backup next season. Likewise, Varlamov made it known throughout the season that he didn't want to be traded at the deadline and preferred to stay with the team for the remainder of the year and sign an extension.
"I want to stay with the team," Varlamov said two months ago on break-up day. "Nothing has changed... I have a good feeling about this team and about the future. I want to be a part of it."
A Special Relationship
On Saturday, Varlamov received his wish, signing a four-year extension for with a $2.75M AAV per year. With Sorokin signing an eight-year extension, one of the league's top goalie tandems and closest relationships will remain intact. "Unless you were here, you couldn't appreciate the communication, the help they are to each other, both off and on the ice," said GM Lou Lamoriello
This is the second time Lamoriello signed Varlamov to a four-year contract. He signed the goaltender to a 4-year/$20M contract after the 2018-19 season, favoring Varlamov to Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner. Many thought that part of the appeal of signing Varlamov was that he could mentor Sorokin if and when the highly touted goalie left the KHL for North America. It's worked out that way.
"There's a tremendous respect and love for each other," added Lamoriello. "I think you can see that in how they appreciate the performance of the person that's in the goal that night, how they greet each other. So Varly has been a tremendous mentor for Ilya and Ilya a tremendous teammate to Varly as far as looking up to him."
Those that believed Varlamov would be back expected it would be at a discount, and it was. The $2.75M AAV for a goaltender with a .913 save percentage over the last two seasons is a fair market rate, but four years is double the term that most imagined for a 35-year-old. However, Lamoriello isn't worried about Varlamov being able to perform at the same level throughout the contract.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone any better than Varly as far as how he takes care of his body, how he prepares for each day of practice, how he, post-practice and postgame, takes care of his body,” Lamoriello said. “He might be a 35-year-old, but I’ve seen a lot of 26-, 27-year-olds I wish were in the shape that he is in."