New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov made his feelings about potentially being traded perfectly clear to Newsday’s Andrew Gross following a 4-0 shutout victory over the Jets up in Winnipeg.
“Do I want to be traded? Absolutely not,” Varlamov said. “I want to stay with this team. I love this team. I want to stay here and re-sign. But it’s out of my control.”
The 34-year-old netminder, who was the No. 1 man to backstop the Islanders to a Stanley Cup semifinal in 2020, is in the final months of his four-year, $20 million deal — caught in between the proverbial rock and hard place that is being a high-profile, logical trade chip on a team that is fighting for its life to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
This isn’t anything necessarily new for the veteran netminder in the last two seasons, which featured a significant drop-off in the Islanders’ contention status. His name has dotted trade rumors throughout that span and with the NHL’s deadline coming on Friday afternoon (3 p.m. ET), there have likely been some difficult conversations — or at least calls from other teams — gauging the interest of parting ways with the veteran netminder.
Varlamov is now the No. 2 man on Long Island behind Ilya Sorokin, who likely will garner Vezina Trophy consideration this season. It’s made Varlamov one of the very best backup goalies available in the league, going 11-7-2 this season with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
He’s allowed two or fewer goals in four of his last six starts, including a 45-save victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 28 and that 23-save shutout on Sunday against the Jets.
“We completely trust both of our goaltenders,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said on Sunday. “We have two good goaltenders and we’ve talked about their relationship with each other and how professional Varly is. At the end of the day, you want both goalies to stay fresh.”
Varlamov’s performances, however, are all the more impressive considering he’s started just four times over the last 20 days — the victim of a good problem for the Islanders, but likely a frustrating vantage point from contenders around the league in desperate need of goaltending help.
He should yield at least a first-round pick from a potential trade suitor, which would provide some desperately-needed draft capital for a team that has sapped its bounty and farm system in recent years. However, the Islanders and general manager Lou Lamoriello have preached the importance of a two-goalie system to the team’s success.
Abandoning it now this week with the Islanders firmly in “must-win” mode from now until the end of the season would send quite a different message to the locker room.
Of course, then comes the very real possibility of seeing him walk in free agency while getting nothing in return. His comments from Sunday express the very real desire to stay, but Varlamov is still a starting-caliber goalie in the NHL and likely will be offered the money of one by another team in free agency.
The Islanders, who have been in a major cap crunch for most of Lamoriello’s tenure as president and GM, likely won’t have the funds to offer another deal similar to his current one ($5 million AAV). So either Varlamov takes a major hometown discount to remain Sorokin’s backup, or he tests greener pastures.
All very real components of a difficult situation for the Islanders to comprehend this week.