Many New York Islanders fans have assumed or asserted the idea that goaltender Semyon Varlamov's time is beginning to run out on the island. With the emergence of young star Ilya Sorokin and his takeover of the starting role, it seems likely that he gets traded at some point. That's not to say that Varlamov is not nor has never been a good Islander. Varlamov was a backbone for the Islanders in both Eastern Conference Finals runs in recent memory.
Now 34 years old, Varlamov is entering the last year of his contract at a $5 million cap hit in 2022-23. He also has a modified no-trade clause, which allows him to veto a trade to 16 teams in the NHL, according to CapFriendly. Having your backup goalie make $5 million is certainly not ideal for any team, but especially not for the Islanders when they need to resign key players like Noah Dobson, and can't expect success icing the same team again that missed the playoffs which does not have a tremendously high ceiling.
Most fans are getting anxious for GM Lou Lamoriello to make a move this offseason, and up until this point, his only major move was trading the 13th overall pick in this year's draft for Alexander Romanov which was a necessary upgrade for the Isles blue line, but following the deal, it's been an underwhelming summer for the Hall-of-Fame GM. With the UFA market becoming less and less desirable now after no signings by the Islanders, the trade market appears the more likely route to improve the roster with aspirations to return to the playoffs and Stanley Cup contention.
So naturally, there are talks of players being either available or shopped and Varlamov falls in that category, but of course, you won't hear that from Lamoriello, who always keeps his cards close to his chest about potential moves. The question at this point is would Lamoriello consider trading Varlamov at some point, any point before his contract with the Islanders is up?
New York Islanders should trade Varlamov at 2022-23 trade deadline
Islanders fans are losing their patience not having seen any offseason moves to make roster improvements, an understandable feeling when the Islanders have been the most quiet team by far. However, trading Varlamov at this moment may not get the best value out of this situation.
Unless Varly is in a trade package that makes the team immediately and noticeably better, then Lamoriello shouldn't trade him quite yet. There are obvious pros to holding onto him for a little longer. First, and as stated by Lamoriello himself, he is a brilliant mentor for Sorokin who despite heading into his third NHL season, is still just at the beginning of his NHL career and life in North America. The duo are great friends off the ice, both have the same agent, and Varlamov is only good for both Sorokin's development and helps make the Islanders crease widely regarded as the best in the NHL.
Varlamov very well might be the backup goalie at this point, but make no mistake he's a starting goaltender on most teams around the NHL. His numbers last season were down from the previous two years with a 2.91 GAA and a .911 save percentage, but considering the kind of season the Islanders had, you can expect Varlamov to rebound with a solid performance in 2022-23.
Considering that his value is likely a little lower now after a down year, the Islanders would benefit from holding onto the Samara, Russia native with the likelihood of fetching more desirable assets at the trade deadline. Playoff-bound teams become desperate to acquire goaltending depth as the postseason looms so you could imagine a decent return.
There is an argument to be made about holding onto Varlamov, too, if the Islanders are in playoff position by the trade deadline they'll almost certainly want to keep him. But if not, the 2023 trade deadline will be Lamoriello's chance to strike a deal including the veteran netminder.
If Varlamov did end up in a trade and Lamoriello doesn't obtain a backup in return, it might mean Jakub Skarek took a step forward in his development playing well for Bridgeport, and so long as Sorokin stays healthy as the starter, the Islanders goaltending situation should be in good shape. Skarek was drafted in 2018 in the third round of Lamoriello's first draft as the Islanders' GM.
Largely considered the most important position in hockey, goaltenders are surely coveted at the trade deadline. Injuries happen and they happen often, so if a contending team's starting goalie goes down, they may get desperate and need to pull the trigger on a move like this. We saw the Edmonton Oilers browsing the market before last year's deadline with both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen questionable and Varlamov was rumored to have vetoed a possible trade there with his no-trade clause.
What the return for Varlamov looks like will be dictated by his play this season. Despite the backup goaltender label, one could assume Varlamov will play at a 30-game pace which could be enough evidence for an interested team to trade for his services. Varly is a well-respected Islander, and losing him could very well leave a deficit behind Sorokin, but moves need to be made in the best interest of the Islanders to continue to compete in the East.