Elite goaltending was one of the key ingredients to the New York Islanders’ impressive and unexpected 2018-19 season. With Semyon Varlamov coming in and Robin Lehner headed out, though questions about Varlamov’s capabilities as a starter remain, the Islanders have a four-year plan for their goaltending situation.
This year, Thomas Greiss is the perfect partner for Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov is inconsistent and how his season will play out is anyone’s guess. With Greiss, the Islanders have a goalie who’s reached the .925 save percentage in two of the last four years, while being able to play up to 40 games per season. If Varlamov struggles out of the gate, there’s the option to go as far as splitting time between Varlamov and Greiss if need be.
Greiss will turn 34 before the season is through though, in what is a perfect time for his contract to expire. He’ll be gone before he’s been around New York long enough to reach an inevitable decline, leaving the door open for a certain top goaltending prospect: Ilya Sorokin.
By the 2020-21 season, Varlamov and Sorokin will likely be a dynamic Russian goaltending duo for the Islanders. Varlamov will be able to take the bulk of games, while Sorokin adjusts to the NHL. It could be a similar situation to what we saw with Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, where he spent parts of three seasons as a young goalie learning behind an experienced starter in Ben Bishop, before eventually taking the job.
Sorokin has been incredible in the KHL, holding a .937 save percentage and a 95-28-18 record over his last four seasons. If he does decide to come to North America, he instantly projects as a high-end NHL starter.
Essentially, if Sorokin does come over, New York is looking at three years of a Varlamov/Sorokin duo, with Varlamov the likely starter in year one, maybe a split of services in year two and Sorokin eventually taking over the starting job for good in the final year of Varlamov’s contract. Before Sorokin evens needs to be paid- you’d expect a short-term bridge-deal after his shortened entry-level contract expires- Varlamov will be 35 years old and his contract will have expired, leaving Sorokin as the clear starter for the foreseeable future after that.
Assuming the plan is that Sorokin joins the Islanders for the 2020-21 season, New York has a roadmap in net for half a decade and possibly beyond.