The day many Islanders fans have been waiting for is finally upon them.
Goaltender Ilya Sorokin — whose rights are owned by the Islanders — refused to sign a contract extension with his Russian club, CSKA Moscow, with the intent to make the jump to the NHL next season, per Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko.
The 24-year-old was taken in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Islanders, but contractual obligations with CSKA Moscow held him in Russia for the last six years.
It was there that he developed into one of the top goalies in Europe while providing the Islanders with the hope of long-term centerpiece in goal.
Since joining CSKA Moscow in the 2014-15 season, Sorokin did not post a goals-against average greater than 1.61 while his save percentage was never lower than .929. Last season, he led his side to a championship and was named the KHL’s playoffs MVP.
His track record indicates that the Islanders are on the cusp of a long-term answer in goal, a constant that has escaped them since the failed 15-year contract extension of Rick DiPietro, who spent 11 years with the club amidst an onslaught of injuries.
DiPietro was the only goalie to spend more than five years with the Islanders since 1989 — though his inability to stay on the ice consistently saw him only play approximately five years-worth of games. Kelly Hrudey spent six seasons with the team from 1984-89 before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings.
Since then, besides DiPietro, the longest-tenured Islanders goalie appears to be the odd-man-out once Sorokin arrives. Thomas Greiss has spent five years with the team and currently ranks fifth on its all-time wins list.
But with his contract expiring at the end of the 2019-20 season — whenever that comes as we continue to wait for the coronavirus pandemic to subside — Greiss is expected to be shown the door by the Islanders.
General manager Lou Lamoriello brought on veteran Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov with a four-year contract to help acclimate Sorokin to life in the NHL, meaning there won’t be enough room for Greiss to get a suitable amount of playing time.
An unfortunate byproduct of Sorokin’s anticipated arrival, but the Islanders will be hoping that the soon-to-be 25-year-old will be the equivalent to what Henrik Lundqvist has been for almost two decades with the crosstown-rival Rangers.
At Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts are also poised in passing the netminding torch to a highly-touted Russian prospect. Before the NHL suspended play, Sorokin’s friend, Igor Shesterkin, won 10 of his first 12 starts with the Rangers, posting a .934 save percentage and a 2.69 goals-against average.