Going into free agency, many believed that the Islanders had an excellent chance at bringing back Robin Lehner. At the end of free agency, the reality looks much different from what the majority thought would happen. Negotiations fell apart between Lehner and the Islanders causing Lou Lamoriello to turn towards other targets. When all was said and done, the Islanders ended up bringing in veteran Semyon Varlamov from the Avalanche.
The 31 year old Russian goaltender was taken 23rd overall in 2006 by the Washington Capitals. He was traded to Colorado for a first and second round pick in the summer of 2011 and was immediately signed to a three year extension. The trade and extension proved to be worthwhile after he was a candidate for the Vezina trophy following the 2013-14 season. At the end of those three years, he signed a five year extension with the Avalanche. Throughout his eight years with Colorado he only participated in 26 playoff games. Varlamov has been either injured or benched, such as last season where Philip Grubauer was chosen to be the team’s starter for the playoffs. Varlamov was always a highly touted goaltender in the NHL, but injuries got in the way and ultimately forced him to struggle in his recent years.
Lou Lamoriello is no stranger to bringing in goalies who have had poor recent performances. In fact, the parallels that can be drawn between Varlamov and former Islander Robin Lehner are astounding. Outside of last season, the Colorado Avalanche have been one of the worst performing teams, and Varlamov was forced to deal with incompetant rosters put out to play in front of him. It was hard for Varlamov to perform to his potential in those situations. The same could be said about Lehner, who was the netminder for some awful Buffalo Sabres teams. He struggled a lot in Buffalo but turned everything around when he joined the Islanders. Off the ice, both Varlamov and Lehner have had their issues. As most Islander fans know, Lehner dealt with alcoholism, ADHD, and Bipolar diagnoses before joining the team. Lehner has been a staple for what it means to display courage in the face of adversity. As for Varlamov, he was charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend of 2013. A judge dropped the charges later on after the case could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Regardless of Varlamov’s past, Islanders fans should be hopeful that he can perform well on the ice. Many people doubted what Lehner could bring for the Islanders, and he ended up being top five in most major goaltending stats, as well as winning the Masterton trophy and being a Vezina trophy finalist. With Piero Greco, Mitch Korn, and Barry Trotz’s defensive system, Varlamov can most definitely have his best season yet. It is very early, and the 2019-20 season hasn’t even started yet for the Islanders, but it would be no surprise if Varlamov was a major player in the Islanders success. Would it be going too far to predict him as a Vezina finalist? I don’t think so.