NHL's Conference Finals proving why NY Islanders need to re-sign Semyon Varlamov
The NY Islanders goaltending duo of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov was widely viewed as the best goaltending tandem from the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Isles General Manager Lou Lamoriello has always been known to build his teams from the net out, so it should come as no surprise he has made sure to this point to have secured the duo of Sorokin and Varlamov for the last few seasons. Varlamov is set to become an unrestricted free agent come July 1st, however, taking a look at how the NHL's Conference Finals have gone, the goaltending situations among the last four teams standing (now three following the elimination of the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night) have proven it's vital for the Islanders to re-sign Varlamov if they intend to return to the playoffs next season and make any sort of run.
There's no doubt who owns the crease for the Isles. Sorokin has dug his skates into the blue paint and won't be relinquishing starting goaltender duties. The Vezina Trophy candidate played 62 games in the 2022-23 season, posting a 2.34 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. Even more impressively, Sorokin posted 38.7 goals saved above expected, third best in the NHL. Varlamov posted a strong .913 SV% and 2.70 GAA in 23 games.
Of the four teams that made the Conference Final, only one goaltender started as many games in the regular season as Sorokin did. Jake Oettinger.
Oettinger's season was almost as impressive as Sorokin's. In his 62 starts where he accrued 37 wins, he posted a 2.37 GAA and .919 SV%. The Dallas Stars goaltender was also ranked 12th among goaltenders with an 11.8 GSAx. He was so good that Dallas head coach Pete Debour started Oettinger 34 times since Jan. 3rd. The problem for the Stars this postseason was that Oettinger wasn't himself in the playoffs, and there's sufficient evidence to believe the root of the problem is he's experiencing burnout.
All Frederick Anderson, Adin Hill, and Sergei Bobrovsky have taken over starting goaltender duties in the playoffs for their respective teams. Each goaltender named was utilized as a part of a tandem in the regular season, or in the Vegas Golden Knights situation, needed goaltending by committee. In the 2022-23 season, Anderson started 37 games for the Carolina Hurricanes, Hill started 27 games for the Golden Knights, and Bobrovsky started 50 for the Florida Panthers.
Now in the postseason, it appears Anderson, Hill, and Bobrovsky are playing with fresher legs than Oettinger. Despite Carolina' being swept in the third round, Anderson posted an immaculate .927 SV% and 1.83 GAA in nine playoff starts. For the Golden Knights, Hill seems to have caught lightning in a bottle with an impressive .940 SV% and 1.96 GAA in eight games and six starts. As for Bobrovsky, his resurgence in the Panthers crease has helped the Panthers clinch a Stanley Cup Final berth with a .935 SV% and 2.21 GAA. The much less fresh Oettinger wasn't able to replicate the performances of the aforementioned goaltenders in the playoffs, posting a meek .895 SV% and 3.02 GAA in 16 starts.
The NHL is evolving and with it, so should each team's outlook on goaltending. Goalie tandems are already beginning to make themselves present around the league and the Islanders shouldn't veer off from what they've already been doing. Both Sorokin and Varlamov were excellent in the 2022-23 season, giving the Islanders elite goaltending on any given night. Re-signing Varlamov should be one of Lamoriello's top priorities this offseason as it's clear this deep into the postseason, you need your best goaltender to be as fresh as possible, and the only way to do that is to ensure Sorokin is not overworked in the 2023-24 regular season.