The foundation for the identity of the New York Islanders is reliant on two things: stellar team defense and above-average goaltending. The addition of Alexander Romanov and the addition by subtraction of Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene will bolster the defensive group. While in net, GM Lou Lamoriello remained committed to the tandem of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov staying together in 2022-23, convinced that the strength of the team must remain the strength of the team.
Varlamov's importance isn't diminished for the NY Islanders next season
For six months, there were rumors and conjecture that the Islanders would or should look to move Varlamov and his $5 million cap hit. Despite playoff-bound teams needing upgrades at the deadline and the summer, nothing ever seemed close to happening either because teams couldn't meet Lamoriello's price or he was never put on the market.
A $5M backup goaltender is a luxury, and the 30-35 games Varlamov is projected to play next season might not be worth his price tag, but his value will be every bit as high to the Islanders as they look to return to the playoffs in 2022-23. For the Islanders to return to the playoffs, having a No.1 and No.1A goaltender in net for 82 games is of the utmost importance.
An injury to a team's number one goaltender can potentially destroy an entire playoff run. By keeping Varlamov in the fold, the Islanders have insurance for Sorokin, both for the regular season or if an injury would occur in the playoffs, something that happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes. Out in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues lost Jordan Binnington in their series versus the Colorado Avalanche. The backups played admirably in those series, but none had the type of big-game experience that Varlamov would have under similar circumstances.
Even though Sorokin has taken over as the main starting goaltender, Varlamov's new role is to be a relaible backup. Varlamov is now one of the better backup's in the league, and when Sorokin needs a night off gives the Isles someone more reliable and trustworhty in goal. Another reason it is important that Semyon Varlamov is still here is in case of a major injury. If Sorokin siffered a long term injury in a worst case situation Varlamov could step in as the starter.
Varlamov registered a record of 10-17-2 last season with a save percentage of .911 and goals against an average of 2.91. Not great stats overall, but when factoring in the Isles' obstacles last season, they look better. Varlamov's play was much improved as the season went on, especially since he did not win a game until December 16 and since he began the season injured. The team struggled overall, and Varlamov was a part of those struggles.
A bounce-back year is in the cards for Varlamov. In his new role as a backup in a contract year, the veteran goaltender will still carry pressure but not the same workload. While Lane Lambert's potential time split is unknown, whichever Russian goaltender he names his starter will give his team an edge in the crease on most nights - something few teams can boast.
While much of the media attention has gone to Sorokin, and rightfully so, Varlamov still being a New York Islander is crucial to the team's success in the 2022-23 season. Among the bets Lamoriello has made on keeping the roster in tact, the decision to keep his tandem together is likely the most essential to go right for a return to post-season hockey.