How rare is it for an Islanders goalie to play 60 games?

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If you hold the belief that Semyon Varlamov should be traded this season, it has very little to do with Varlamov and everything to do with Ilya Sorokin (and cap space, of course).

Trading Varlamov, who played in 32 games last season and will cost $5M AAV next season, continues to be one of the more straightforward moves to shed salary to upgrade the offense. But at the draft, GM Lou Lamoriello reiterated that keeping the Russian pair together is best for the organization for next season.

If that ends up being more posturing than the team’s position, then more will be asked of Sorokin in his third NHL season.  The 52 games played by the soon-to-be 27-year-old Sorokin in 2021-22 was the 12th most by an Islanders goaltender in team history, showing that he can handle the workload of a No.1 goaltender at this level. If Lamoriello changes course and decides trading Varlamov is a necessity to improve the offense, that total could grow to more than 60 games next season depending on the goalie brought in to serve as back-up.

A year ago, only five goalies reached the mark across the NHL: Jusse Saros (67), Connor Hellebuyck (66), Thatcher Demko (64), Andrei Vasilevsky (63), and Jacob Markstrom (63). In the previous 82-game season in 2018-19, eight goalies reached 60 games, with Devan Dubnyk playing in 67. That season, the Islanders won the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team that allowed the fewest goals in the league. Robin Lehner (46) and Thomas Greiss (43) had a near-even split in Barry Trotz’s first year. Varlamov played a career-high 63 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14, finishing second in Vezina Trophy voting that season.

There have only been four Islanders goalies to amass 60+ games in the regular season and the milestone has only been reached six times in franchise history.

On that list, you won't find Billy Smith, the most decorated goaltender in franchise history. "Smitty" played a career-high 56 games in 1974-75, but never topped 46 during the Islanders' five consecutive trips to the NHL Finals, splitting time with first Chico Resch and then Roland Melanson.

However, you will find a list of goalies that had their best years before and after they left Long Island and another whose career trajectory was derailed by health after handling an unprecedented workload for the Isles in net.

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Ron Hextall: 64 in 1993-94

A month after their surprise run to the 1993 Wales Conference Finals, the Islanders acquired former Vezina Trophy winner Ron Hextall from the Quebec Nordiques. The teams swapped first-round picks and the Isles added backup goaltender Mark Fitzpatrick to complete the deal. The acquisition of Hextall led to playoff hero Glenn Healy being unprotected in the NHL expansion draft.

The shakeup meant that Tom Draper and 22-year-old Jamie McLennan made up the Isles' depth in goal, resulting in coach Al Arbour relying heavily on Hextall. The veteran became the first goaltender in team history to surpass 60 games played in a season. The Islanders and Hextall had an up and down season, finishing 8th in the new Eastern Conference before being thoroughly dominated by the New York Rangers in a first-round sweep. Hextall ended the year with a 27-26-6 record posting a 3.08 GAA and .898 SV%. After the season he was traded back to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 6th-round pick and goaltender Tommy Soderstrom. Hextall would find his old form with his former team, leading the league in GAA in 1995-96.

Tommy Salo
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Tommy Salo: 62 (1997-98)  

Drafted in the 5th round (118th overall) in the 5th round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Tommy Salo gained global recognition when he led Sweden to a goal medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics, defeating Canada in a shootout, stopping Paul Kariya for the win. Salo made his NHL debut for the Islanders a year later and became the starter for the 1997-97 team, playing in 58 games and posting a respectable 2.82 GAA for a team that finished 29-41-12.

A year later, after a memorable arbitration hearing with GM Mike Milbury, Salo appeared in 62 games and improved his GAA, lowering it to 2.64.  For whatever reason, despite solid numbers for a team outside of the playoffs, Milbury was not a fan. He would trade for Felix Potvin during the next season and would send Salo to Edmonton for Mats Lingren and an 8th-round draft pick in 1999 (Radek Martinek). Salo would go on to make the most of his opportunity with the Oilers, becoming a two-time All-Star and finishing in the Top 10 of Vezina voting three times.  

Chris Osgood
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Chris Osgood: 66 in 2001-02

The Islanders selected Chris Osgood from the Red Wings with the first pick in the NHL waiver draft days before the start of the 2001-02 season. Detroit had acquired Domink Hasek earlier that off-season, making the two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie expendable. "When you can acquire a player of Chris' caliber and accomplish it without giving up a player on your roster, you do it," Isles general manager Mike Milbury said at the time.

The Islanders had finished last in the NHL the previous season and their issues were pronounced in the net. John Vanbiesbrouck, Wade Flaherty, 19-year-old Rick DiPietro and Chris Terreri combined for a .891 SV % and a 3.15 GAA. After trading for holdouts Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca, the acquisition of Osgood solidified the goaltending situation as the Isles jumped out to an 11-1-1 start with “Ozzie” wearing his red Detroit pads to start the season. He won NHL “Player of the Month” in October posting eight wins and a 1.85 GAA. He finished the season with 32 wins, tying Billy Smith (1981-82) for a team record at the time.

Rick DiPietro
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Rick DiPietro: 63 (2007-08), 63 (2005-06), 62 (2006-07)

Being selected first overall in the 2000 Draft and signing a landmark15-year-contract is what most remember about Rick DiPietro. Yet it can be easy to forget or simply overlook just how much of a workhorse he was for the franchise as his young career was taking shape.  After playing 50 games and taking over as the team’s No. 1 in 2003-04, DiPietro was in net for 60+ games three consecutive seasons starting in 2005-06, the only Islanders goaltender to reach the 60 GP mark more than once, making the All-Star team in 2006-07.

Following the 2007-08 season, DiPietro had hip and knee surgery during the off-season before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in November to repair a meniscus injury. The team decided to shut him down in January after swelling and soreness in his left knee persisted. DiPietro would never be able to return to full health and played in just 50 games over the next five seasons after three consecutive seasons of over 60.