It is not as simple as being reduced to what Semyon Varlamov wants, but though the Islanders goaltender’s contract is set to expire at the end of this season and his role has been reduced to backing up Ilya Sorokin, he still wants to remain with the team.
“I would love to stay here and then extend the contract,” Varlamov told The Post one day before he made 44 saves Saturday in a 2-1 overtime win over the Golden Knights at UBS Arena.
What remaining on Long Island would entail, though, is a bit more complex.
Varlamov is slated to make $5 million this season. If signs a contract to stay with the Islanders, it will presumably come with a pay cut. It doesn’t make sense for them to pay that much for a backup, even one as good as Varlamov, with other holes to fill on their roster. Though he’ll turn 35 in April, Varlamov’s .917 save percentage is good enough to start on most teams.
Saturday night, he was the most important player on the ice for the Islanders. He turned away William Carrier’s penalty shot in overtime and made a highlight-reel paddle save on Reilly Smith in the second period.
Islanders goaltender Semyon VarlamovCorey Sipkin
“I thought he was focused, square, he was fresh,” coach Lane Lambert said. “And he certainly played a fantastic game.”
Through the combination of Sorokin turning into a superstar and Varlamov suffering an untimely injury, what was briefly an even split between the goaltenders has turned into Sorokin getting the bulk of the work: 36 starts to Varlamov’s 16.
If the Islanders fall out of the playoff race, Varlamov’s name will likely start to come up in trade rumors, as it did last season, though he does have a 16-team no-trade list and would prefer to remain on Long Island.
“I’ve been in the NHL for a long time. I’ve seen pretty much everything,” he said. “This is just another situation for me, another year in my career when I’m gonna become a free agent or maybe I’m not [if an extension gets done], I don’t know. You don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, right? But of course I’m aware after this year, I’m gonna become a free agent and then I’m gonna be 35 years old. And then, so we’ll see.”
Has that forced him to contemplate how long he wants to keep playing?
“I want to play as long as possible. It all depends how your body feels,” Varlamov said. “And then it all depends if you’re gonna have another opportunity to re-sign with this organization or go somewhere else. Like I said, I would love to stay here because I love it here, love the team. I would love to extend my contract. But I cannot control these things.”
Since Varlamov returned from injury early this month, the difference between him and Sorokin has become more stark. Varlamov made just four starts in January, and Wednesday at Ottawa was the first time he truly played as he had in the past, turning aside 36 of 38 shots in a 2-1 loss. It’s a different situation for a goaltender who has been an NHL starter just about every season for the last decade, a span that includes a 2013-14 season, in which he was in net 60 times for the Avalanche.
“This year, it’s been different for me,” Varlamov said. “It is what it is. I spend more time practicing on the ice with the goalie coach. You have to when you don’t play every game or every other game, you have to make sure you stay in good shape. And then that’s all you can do, you know what I mean? And then Ilya’s been playing very good for us this year. My job is to support him and try to stay positive about everything.”
“He’s a complete professional,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “Whether he’s playing many games or playing an average number of games, he does the same thing. He prepares, he’s ready … he’s very supportive.”
Prior to suffering a groin injury in mid-December, Varlamov was playing his best hockey of the season, splitting starts with Sorokin and making a compelling case for more playing time. Since then, however, Sorokin has gotten red-hot and Lambert has been loath to go away from him. “I was feeling pretty good during that stretch,” Varlamov said. “It was really frustrating for me to miss a couple games. But it is what it is, injuries happen. You just have to do the best you could to come back and then start playing again.”