About time! The moment all Islander fans have been waiting for since 2014 when they drafted him in the third round, Ilya Sorokin looks like he is bound for THE ISLAND (imagine that in Barry Trotz’s voice). He has declined to sign an extension with CSKA Moscow and has the NHL in his sights. This brings up 2 main questions: How good is he really? How will this work out financially for the Islanders?
How good is he?
I am not going to pretend like I have the time to follow the KHL, but I have seen many Sorokin highlights and he is very impressive. I know what you are thinking you can make anybody look like the best goalie in the world with a Youtube video. However, the stats speak for themselves. Sorokin has a career .930 Save Percentage, a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.70 and a record of 184 wins and only 81 loses. Sorokin’s playoff stats are even better with a save percentage of .940, a GAA of 1.37 and a record of 50 wins and 17 losses. I haven’t even mentioned all the 24-year-old Russian netminder’s accolades: KHL All-Star (5), KHL Best Goaltender (1), Olympic Gold Medalist (1), KHL Playoffs MVP (1), the list goes on… Check out my colleague James Maloney’s article for a better/ more in depth view of Sorokin’s stats and awards.
There is a lot to be excited about for Islander fans. However, some might question if he can translate his success in Russia into NHL success. No doubt the NHL is the best league in the world and he might see some drop off from his KHL numbers. However, there are many examples of successful transitions: Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Evgenii Dadonov, Ilya Kovalchuk and most recently Pavel Francouz and Igor Shestyorkin. That is just some of the recent big names.
What Awaits Sorokin in the NHL?
Sorokin is also going to be in a great position with Trotz’s defensive system. This system not only won Trotz a Stanley Cup with the Capitals, but also took the Islanders from the worst GAA in 2017-2018 to the best GAA in 2018-19. The Islanders were 10th in GAA when this season was suspended. Next season the Isles should get back arguably their best defensive minded defenseman in Adam Pelech and their best two-way forward in Casey Cizikas. It is almost for the best that they Islanders had to wait on Sorokin, because his first years could have been under Jack Capuano or Doug Weight. Surely, everything is looking up for the Islanders going into next season. Right?
Wrong. There is one big problem for the Islanders this upcoming off-season. Barzal, Pulock and Toews all are RFAs and need new contracts. In my opinion, these are three of the Islanders’ best players. Barzal being their best forward and Pulock and Toews excelling on both sides on the puck. The Islander only have $12.6 million in Projected Cap Space for 2021-20. So how do they sign these three players and now Sorokin?
Who Will Go?
Expiring contracts like Brassard, Kuhnhackl, Greene, Martin and Greiss could definitely help. Even if they keep Martin and Greene which I think they should, they can renegotiate their wages. Greiss will be replaced by Sorokin and Brassard has pretty much already been replaced by Pageau. Greene could make a cheap option as a 6th or 7th defenseman. Greene was making $5 million which they can negotiate down to around $1 million (maybe lower) since he is 37. Signing Greene would allow us to shop Boychuk or Leddy who are making $6 million and $5.5 million respectively. Boychuk is definitely a hard sell since he is 36 and is signed on until 2021-22 at $6 million a year. The Islanders would definitely have to eat some of his contract if we did get a team to take him. On the other hand, Leddy is definitely a viable option to trade away. He is 29, has won a Cup with Chicago and still is one of the fastest skating d-men out there.
If the Isles revisited the potential Zach Parise deal, they could put Ladd and Leddy in a deal for Parise. This would free up around $3.5 million in cap space and bring in Parise who could help the Islanders’ struggling powerplay. This would help the Wild in the future because Parise is 35 and will have 5 years left on his $7.5 million a year contract. Ladd only will have 3 years left on this $5.5 million a year contract and Leddy will have 2 years left. Leddy is someone who you would want on your team anyway. Josh Bailey and Leo Komarov are more players who the Islanders might look to ship out. They are making $5 a million and $3 million a season respectively. Any way you look at it, the Islanders will have to make some serious changes to accommodate for their new contracts.
Nothing is settled yet on Sorokin, but I for one am more excited about his prospect than I am worried about the financials. I trust Lou when he says that he will sign Barzal this off-season. I think the Islanders have become a much more attractive team to sign for since Tavares left. Not only have they played much better hockey under Trotz, but they have also started building their new arena in Elmont. They will also play all their 2020-21 home games at the new Coliseum. I cannot wait for Sorokin to face off against his good friend Igor Shestyorkin and the Rangers in front of an electric Coliseum crowd.
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