NY Islanders G Ilya Sorokin is having a down season and it's alright to talk about it

Mar 17, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Jonny Brodzinski (22) celebrates his
Mar 17, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Jonny Brodzinski (22) celebrates his / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get some things straight from the start. Ilya Sorokin is not the main reason why the New York Islanders are not in a playoff spot with 15 games remaining. On a list of things wrong with this roster, he's near the very bottom, both now and moving forward. The team's defense has been porous in front of him, and the penalty kill has been historically bad this season.

It's been a collective effort. This isn't all on him. No one should be suggesting that.

However, the 28-year-old is having a sub-par season, and you know what? It's okay to say that, and I think he'd agree. That assessment is due, in part, to where expectations were coming into this year. It was an insanely high, maybe unfair, bar for the Vezina runner-up to reach as he ascended to the top of nearly every pundit's list of best goaltenders in the National Hockey League.

Entering the final year of his three-year, $12M AAV contract, GM Lou Lamoriello extended Sorokin for the next eight seasons for $8.25M AAV on Jul.1st. On a day of long contracts, the one signed by the Russian netminder was the one universally lauded. The Islanders had their franchise goalie locked up for nearly the next decade. He was already considered to be among an elite group of goalies across the league and there was a belief that Sorokin could even be better than he was in 2022-23.

Yes, the Islanders were going into this season with an imperfect roster, but on most nights, they would have the edge in goal, with the assumption that throughout the course of a regular season, there would be multiple games Sorokin would steal for you or keep you in long enough to collect points in games you otherwise would have left empty-handed.

Ilya Sorokin
New York Islanders v New York Rangers / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

As this season has progressed, we've been waiting for that stretch of games where Sorokin is dialed in for sixty minutes. The game where the Isles were wildly outplayed and yet still won because their goaltender was the best player on the ice. Those games just haven't happened.

His traditional goaltending stats are the worst of his career by a substantial margin. After allowing five goals to the New York Rangers on Sunday, Sorokin's GAA is now 3.03, and his save percentage is .908. For his career, his GAA is 2.52, and his save percentage is .919. From an advanced stats perspective, Evolving-Hockey had Sorokin leading the league in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) last season with 51.3. Entering Sunday, that number was just 8.3, 27th in the league.

The PK has ranked last or next to the last the whole season after consistently being a middle-of-the-paxck unit for years. How much of that is on the goaltending? Per NaturalStatTrick, last year, when on the penalty kill, Sorokin had a .894 save percentage and had 8.17 goals saved above expected. This year, his save percentage is 0.822, and his goals saved above expected is -9.27.

That's a massive swing. He was there best penalty-killer last year, and this year, hasn't been.

The Islanders' defensive woes are not new, they were prevalent through the All-Star break last season as well, and that didn't stop Sorokin from putting up outlandishly good numbers. It was widely understood that Sorokin was the main reason why they remained in the playoff race and ultimately clinched a playoff berth in the last game of the regular season.

Mar 7, 2024; San Jose, California, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) sprays water
Mar 7, 2024; San Jose, California, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) sprays water / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Some Sorokin defenders argue that no goaltender would have success with this Islanders team in front of them. If that's the case, why pay a premium price for that position? To be average? To have similar results as most league-average goaltenders? No one is defending the Isles' lack of defense, but the expectation was for Sorokin to neutralize the impact of those weaknesses.

Moving forward, I have much more confidence in Sorokin regaining his All-Star form than Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock returning to top-pair status, and if you have doubts surrounding the logic of giving Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield seven-year contracts, this season only added to them.

At $8.25M a year, the Islanders are paying Sorokin to be a consistent All-Star level, recurring Vezina-Trophy finalist type of goaltender. That means he has to be better than he's been. That's not making him the scapegoat or absolving Lamoriello for roster management or a handful of veteran players for their performance. It's just the way it has to be for that contract to be worth the commitment the organization made. He has to be a difference-maker, and he hasn't been, which might end up making the difference between making the playoffs and just missing out.