June 6, 2023

Lou Lamoriello seemed genuinely baffled by the question.

It had been nearly four weeks in Tampa and the Islanders general manager had been asked, given that Semyon Varlamov had played so little all along, if it made sense to trade him by the deadline.

He laughed.

“Where does that question come from?” he asked. “It was never a thought in our minds. I think that’s the best way to answer that question.”

In each of the past two seasons, Varlamov’s name has emerged as a potential trading chip, and it’s not hard to see why.

Ilya Sorokin has been incarcerated as the number 1 goaltender of the Islanders. Varlamov, who turns 35 today, has a $5 million cap. His contract expires at the end of this season. That’s generally enough reason to start handling calls.

However, Lamoriello never seemed to have considered the possibility (or had quite a poker face). The reason why is facing the Islanders in their first round series.

Frederik Andersen, to be fair, didn’t have the same kind of solid perch on top of the depth chart for Carolina that Sorokin did for the Islanders. But going into Game 1, you would expect Andersen, who started a number of games for Carolina during the regular season, to be in nets.

And you would have been wrong.

Due to a combination of illness and injury, it was Antti Raanta instead who started in all five games for Carolina, and it would be a surprise if Rod Brind’Amour goes elsewhere on Friday night after Raanta gave the Hurricanes five solid performances.

Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Carolina Hurricanes saves on a shot by Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders in the third period as the Carolina Hurricanes played the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the UBS Arena in Elmont, New York on April 21, 2023.
The Panthers managed to get to the brink of the second round with Antti Raanta in nets instead of regular starting goaltender Frederik Andersen.
Paul J. Bereswill for the NY Post

This is why trading Varlamov has always been a nonstarter. The Islanders rely too heavily on their keepers to risk putting themselves in a position where they can’t withstand anything that happens to Sorokin, especially when the organizational depth chart at the position has no ready-made replacement for the number 2 spot.

Still, it’s quite possible that Varlamov, who played in just three games (two starts) after the trade deadline, may have made his final appearance in an Islanders uniform.

If Sorokin stays healthy, it would be shocking to see someone else in net for the Islanders during the playoffs. And while Varlamov told The Post earlier this season that he wants to stay with the Isles on unlimited free duty, to do so would almost certainly require him to accept a big pay cut and the reality of starting 20-30 games a season while still playing well. enough to play. start for some teams.

(One of those teams, by the way, could be the Hurricanes – Varlamov’s .913 save percentage this season was better than what Andersen, Raanta or Pyotr Kochetkov put forward).

Don’t forget that Varlamov didn’t lose the top spot on the depth chart – Sorokin won it last season by playing so well that a change was undeniable.

Sorokin didn’t start 60 games this season because the Islanders didn’t have enough backup – he did because he was too good to sit in the straight if they needed to win every night.

New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) stops a puck in the second period against the Washington Capitals at the UBS Arena, Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Uniondale, NY.
Varlamov is likely to attract a lot of interest in free agency after posting a .913 save percentage in 23 games this season.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

The Islanders could have easily earned some signing in exchange for Varlamov, which is no small feat for an organization that is about to go without a first round for the third time in a row, and cleared up some felling space as well.

But that would never be worth the risk.

Want to catch a game? The Islanders schedule with links to purchase tickets can be found here.

The next chess move

Perhaps this is all moot because the Islanders will have the final change in Game 6.

But the best response to Lane Lambert splitting Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat late in Game 5 to force Brind’Amour to choose which line to play against would have been to choose answer C: Neither.

Brock Nelson’s line is by some margin the best of the Islanders in this series. That line earned Brind’Amour’s attention, not least because it accounted for both Islanders’ five-on-five goals in the match.

New York Islanders celebrate a goal by New York Islanders Brock Nelson (29).
Brock Nelson’s line propelled the Islanders to a Game 5 victory as they tried to get past the Hurricanes.

Nelson, Pierre Engvall and Kyle Palmieri on the ice defeated the ‘Canes 5-1 while on the ice with an expected goal percentage of almost 60.

Especially if Lambert is separating his two superstars, that’s the line Carolina has to worry about on Friday.

A not so rare achievement

Since the Hurricanes are one win away from beating the Islanders despite being outscored at equal strength, we asked Elias Sports Bureau how many times a team has won a series in such circumstances, assuming it’s at least somewhat rare used to be.

Turns out not at all.

It happened twice in the first round last season, when the Rangers beat the Penguins and when the Lightning beat the Maple Leafs.

Twice per playoffs is the going rate in recent seasons: teams have achieved the feat the same number of times in each season since 2019.