As the COVID-19 pandemic drags through its third month and into the heart of North American sports, Islanders fans are still awaiting for multiple forms of hope for this season and beyond.
The current NHL season is still suspended and although talks are currently underway on how/who/where/when the season will resume, Isles fans must look towards the future for additional hope.
As previously reported, the long-awaited arrival of Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin awaiting the NHL season to return is upon us-sort of. Yes, Sorokin’s contract with CSKA Moscow expired on April 30th and he did not re-sign with his Russian team. Yes, Lou Lamoriello plans on signing Sorokin as soon as possible and yes, the Islanders truly look forward to Sorokin being the netminder for years to come.
However, the movement to get Sorokin to be a member of the Islanders for the 2019-20 season when it resumes seems to be a dead issue. According to reports, the NHL will not allow Sorokin and fellow CSKA Moscow teammate Kirill Kaprizov to sign entry-level contracts (ELC’s) for the current season and will only consider allowing these two hockey players to sign ELC’s for the upcoming 2020-21 season. The supposed NHL logic behind this decision lies in the fact that the NHL would like to finish out the current season with current players and not bring in any “ringers” per se to help teams and give these teams a sudden boost.
This argument does merit some weight given the fact that both the Islanders and the Minnesota Wild (who hold Kaprizov’s NHL contract rights) are both “bubble” teams should the season resume any time soon. Although there has been no official statement to this fact, the chance that Ilya Sorokin will be protecting the pipes for the Isles is almost non-existent until next season finally arrives.
Once hockey does resume, where will Sorokin find himself?
Transitioning from the larger European ice to the smaller NHL rinks and the more physical style of North American play will no doubt require Sorokin to have some sort of preparation period before making his debut in an Islanders uniform.
The likely scenario will have Sorokin gain some experience and confidence in the North American game by starting him out with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. With any success there Sorokin may be moved up to the “big club” to be an understudy to fellow Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov.
This may well what Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello had planned from the beginning to allow Sorokin to become more familiar with the NHL style of play and ease him into the Islanders lineup while learning from an experienced goalie and countryman. Varlamov’s signing last year by the Isles probably was not a mere coincidence but a calculated move to help Sorokin transition to life in North America and the NHL be smoother.
As Sorokin gains more confidence and proves himself up to the task of protecting the Isles pipes every game, he may well begin his move to more of a full-time goalie, and Varlamov will move to a backup role down the road.
In any case, Ilya Sorokin is a project for the Islanders’ future and will hopefully pay dividends for years to come.
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