It’s been written about a length now how important goaltending has become to the overall success of the Islanders. As one of the stabilizing facets under the Lou Lamoriello-Barry Trotz regime, you would think the Vezina Trophy would have made its way back to Long Island by now.
Hall of Famer Billy Smith remains the only Vezina winner in the franchise’s history when he won the award in 1982. Robin Lehner came close to winning the award in 2019, only to fall short to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. And Semyon Varlamov, the goalie who replaced Lehner, had a Vezina-worthy season in 2020-21 but finished fifth in the voting.
This year though could be different, as there seems to be more faith in Varlamov as one of the heavy favorites to receive the biggest prize for a goaltender.
According to vegasinsider.com, Varlamov has the fourth-best odds to win the Vezina. Ahead of him are Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury (the reigning winner) and Phillipp Grubauer, who was a finalist last year in Colorado and is now a member of the expansion Seattle Kraken.
That’s a star-studded list. But it’s definitely one that Varlamov deserves to be on.
Last year the 33-year-old was tremendous for the Isles in the regular season posting 19 wins and having a GAA (goals-against average) and SV% (save percentage) both in the top-five of goalies in the league. Varlamov was able to form a formidable duo with rookie Ilya Sorokin in net, and the two showed terrific chemistry as a 1A-1B combo. The Russian native was a key part of the Islanders getting within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals and head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged him as the team’s MVP for the season after he was snubbed in the trophy Voting.
“I’m biased a little bit because I see Varly from a day-in and day-out aspect,” Trotz said. “He’s probably been our MVP this year. I can’t challenge the three finalists, [the Lightning’s Andrei] Vasilevskiy has been outstanding, [the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre] Fleury has been outstanding, I’ve had [the Avalanche’s] Philipp Grubauer and he’s been outstanding. I’m biased because I get to see Varly and I know how much he means to us in a very competitive division this year.”
Semyon Varlamov is looking solid tonight. 👀 #StanleyCup
— NHL (@NHL) June 4, 2021
Trotz might not need to have the same defense of his starting goaltender based on the expectations now of he and his team for 2021-22. Experts see the Islanders as a threat to win the Stanley Cup with Varlamov being a huge part of why they are in that position. He’s an elite keeper. And it needs to be said — which has already been recognized by yours truly — that Varlamov and Sorokin make up arguably the top goaltending tandem in the NHL after Fleury was dealt from Vegas to Chicago earlier this offseason.
Securing the Vezina would be a huge accomplishment for Varlamov after how close he came to winning it once before. He finished second in voting for the 2012-13 season when he backstopping the Colorado Avalanche. It’s crazy to believe he hasn’t been in consideration since. Until now.
Varlamov has reached that high level again. And it’s why he is a favorite going into this year to bring home the greatest honor a goaltender can receive.