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License to Ilya: Islanders finally get Sorokin signed


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Kontinental Hockey League: Admiral Vladivostok vs CSKA Moscow Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images

What year is it? You’d be forgiven if you have to think about it. Time has been blending and warping and crawling for so long that it can be hard to remember when something happened or what day it is or how long an event has taken to happen.

Goaltender Ilya Sorokin was selected by the Islanders in the third round, 78th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Six years, 15 days, two Islanders general managers, dozens of wins and an armload of awards all in his native Russia later, he has finally signed his entry level contract with the team.

The announcement came this evening from Sorokin’s new agent, Dan Milstein, who tweeted out the sentence Islanders fans had been anxiously awaiting. With a custom hashtag and everything.

And, of course, there’s Capfriendly with the money matters.

The signing’s delay was the result of choices on both sides and CBA hoops, including NHL bizarrely rejiggering a standing rule in order to prevent free agents like Sorokin from playing in this year’s messed up post-season tournament. Along the way there were rumors and hopes and false trade reports and a pandemic and tons of agita.

But all of that is over now. Really. I mean it. I know, I know. We’ve heard all kinds of stuff about this guy coming or not coming for what feels like forever. This time, it’s real. His signature is on the dotted line and the man considered the best goalie prospect not in the NHL is finally, actually, a New York Islander.

Great. That means he’s gonna play right away, right? Well, therein lies the rub. Per the new pandemic-pondering CBA that was ratified by the NHL and NHLPA over the weekend, late-signing free agents like Sorokin (and Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Montreal’s Alexander Romanov) are prohibited from playing in games during Phases 3 & 4 of the NHL’s Return to Play plan. They can take part in practice and, effectively, burn their entry level contracts right away in order to sign a bigger second contract in fairly short order.

Per Arthur Staple’s article in The Athletic, Sorokin can indeed sign that other deal as of right now.

Sorokin is eligible to sign a contract for 2020-21 and beyond immediately, though there was no indication Monday that was ready to be announced soon after Dan Milstein, Sorokin’s agent, tweeted out the news that his client had signed for 2019-20. With the salary-cap crunch coming for the Islanders and Sorokin unable to play an NHL game before next season, the next contract is unlikely to be a bank-breaker, likely in the $2-2.5 million per season range on a two- or three-year deal. Sorokin can become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.

So Sorokin’s Islanders debut will most likely be whenever next season starts, possibly as early as December. By then, he would have not played in a professional hockey game in 10 months. But he’ll have had had plenty of time to work with goalie coaches Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, meet his new teammates, find a place to live on Long Island and sample All American Burgers’ eternally unchanged cheap-ass greasy cuisine.

That also means that the Islanders goalies for their play-in series with the Panthers (and potentially beyond) will be Semyon Varlamov, a buddy of Sorokin’s signed to a four-year contract last summer, and Thomas Greiss, who is expected to be nearing the end of a surprisingly successful five-year run with the club.

Whenever he hits the ice in blue and orange, Sorokin will be one of the most highly anticipated newcomers in quite some time. During his time in the KHL, the 24-year-old (he turns 25 on August 24th) has racked up a ridiculous amount of wins, awards and accolades, while keeping his save percentage at a ludicrously high level. In 2018-19, he led CSKA to a Gagarin Cup championship, was named playoff MVP, and led all goalies in shutouts in both the regular season (11) and playoffs (5). In this truncated season, he still made the KHL All Star team for the fifth time and had nine regular season shutouts. CSKA had swept its first round playoff series before the league shut down due to COVID-19.

Prospect watcher Scott Wheeler of The Athletic says that Sorokin has a chance to be even better than his countrymen and fellow KHL imports Ilya Samsonov, Igor Shesterkin, and Alexandar Georgiev.

He entered the second-best pro league in the world as a 17-year-old and has a career .930 save percentage in 244 regular-season games (!) since. That’s the equivalent to four 60-game seasons as a virtually unflappable goalie. During that time, he also has a career .940 save percentage across 69 playoff games. We’re talking about a massive sample size.

Exciting! And he’s been waiting to sign with the Islanders - yes, our Islanders - for a while. He’ll get his chance eventually to show what he can do in the NHL. We’ve waited this long, we’ll have to just keep going. At least now, we have the signature we needed.