Looking to bounce back from a pair of humiliating losses including a 7-6 OT loss to the Panthers on Saturday, the Devils will face down the Islanders on Sunday. It’s a game with some rivalry to it, but the also-floundering-in-standings Isles don’t offer any implications to this one. And while the Islanders are likely to see rookie, Nico Daws, the Devils could be staring down veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The once unquestioned starter has been relegated to backup to Ilya Sorokin. With both signed through 2022-23 and $9 million committed to the position, the Islanders may be forced into an offseason decision–and the Devils would be an interested party.
New York expected to have another postseason run after advancing two rounds going up against the Lightning in the Conference Final in consecutive seasons. And, with Sorokin more acclimated to the NHL and playing inside a more traditional season, he likely would be given the green light to be the team’s undisputed starter–a role Varlamov tried to nail down, starting in 19 of 22 (including four postseason qualifier games) in the 2020 bubble and 14 of 19 in 2021, including going save-for-save with Andrei Vasilevskiy in a seven-game final.
Varlamov is looking more and more like he can be the perfect stable veteran, able to stand in at the first sign of struggle for Sorokin, who looks poised to be the starter next time the Islanders qualify for the postseason–and with Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz guiding the ship, contending will always be the goal. But, is the luxury of having a career 500-plus game backup with $5 million against the cap and the Islanders feasible? How much will be allocated to Noah Dobson and locking down the rest of the defense with Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene able to walk? If Dobson is looking at a long-term deal similar to fellow D-men, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, it’s not inconceivable to think north of $6.5 million is within reach. We know both Lamoriello and Trotz have had success with teams that build from the net-out, so you’d suspect a free agent acquisition on defense would be an offseason point of emphasis. Is Nikita Zadorov priced out of the Isles with the current projected cap situation of $12.255 million (before Dobson’s extension)? Andy Greene may be back at another league-minimum contract, but can they find another option below $1 million?
There is the Isles’ conundrum. And, Tom Fitzgerald has to be sorting conducting his due diligence on upgrading the catastrophic turn of events in-goal seemingly since his first full season as general manager. It remains to be seen if Jonathan Bernier is able to return from hip surgery this season and even so, can he return to form? Mackenzie Blackwood may play again this season, but it’s hard to know where his game will be–and it’s even harder to figure out what the next move might be for the two sides with Blackwood’s recent change in representation. He may want a change of scenery, but he’ll probably need to string together a stretch of games to garner much interest right away.
And that position, still up in the air might mean the Devils have no choice but to phone Long Island and inquire on the price to acquire Varlamov with full intentions of giving him the starting job–or worst case scenario, a near 50-50 split with Blackwood or another goaltender, likely acquired outside the org. Daws needs AHL seasoning despite some success in the NHL. Akira Schmid is still a raw product and other pieces in the pipeline need to develop and not be forced into the kind of spot the Devils were and remain in now.
Of course, there’s Lou, a general manager who had no problem with having Martin Brodeur, playing in-excess of 70 games, have a solid second option. Mike Dunham, John Vanbiesbrouck and Kevin Weekes, the INSIDER, Kevin Weekes I should say, round out the position. He also had no problem with a rather expensive goaltending 1A-1B arrangement between Brodeur and Cory Schneider. So, as far as trading for another team’s backup goes, this may be an endeavor that could cost the Devils some assets. They hold 9 picks in the upcoming draft and have all of their own picks in 2023 and 2024.
There is of course the option that Varlamov might play out 2022-23 on the Islanders in a 60-40 split and still be able to sell himself as a starting option in free agency, where the Devils may still be circling the wheels at the position. But, there’s an obvious need in the present and this could be the time and goaltender to pursue.