When General Manager Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders signed goaltender Semyon Varlamov as a UFA after the 2018-19 season, it was greeted with mixed reactions. Varlamov was a high-caliber NHL starter, but was replacing fan-favorite Robin Lehner, who along with Thomas Greiss, had just won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league.
In addition to that, the deal was for four years, and the growing expectation was that KHL star goaltender Ilya Sorokin would, at some point in the contract, be ready to assume the team's No. 1 position. The assumption was that part of the reason the Isles targeted Varlamov originally was to help Sorokin with the transition to North America and the NHL. That has happened with the pair becoming one of the best goalie tandems in the league and having a close relationship off the ice.
"(Sorokin) is my good friend," Varlamov explained back in May. "I've known him for a long time. We've had so much fun over the last couple of years playing together. It's always nice coming into the locker room and talk Russian, especially with him. We're on the same page with a lot of things, like joking around or talking about the game. I had a lot of fun, especially playing with him."
And while it was often thought that the Islanders would want to trade Varlamov and his cap hit once Sorokin established himself as one of the game's best goaltenders, the desire for the team to move him was not there, nor was Varalmov's need to have to be a No. 1 goaltender somewhere else. On July 1st, he signed a four-year $11M extension to remain the team's backup into his late 30's,
“My family, we wanted to stay here because we love this place,” Varlamov told The New York Post. “This is a great organization. This is where all the players want to play. I’m glad everything worked out for us and then I get a chance to stay for another four years."
Lamoriello values goaltending as much as any executive in the league, and the thought of having to replace Varlamov, even if he only appears in 25-30 games a season, was viewed as too much of a risk for the short and longterm. Without any goalie prospect in the system approaching NHL readiness, the safe play was bringing him back, and Varlamov couldn't be happier it worked out that way.
“I love this team and I want to be a part of this team, added Varlamov. "I think this team is going in the right direction and we have a chance to win, especially with [Ilya Sorokin] in the net, because he’s one of the best goalies in the NHL and he’s proven that over the years.”