Ilya Sorokin will not be able to play for the Islanders if the 2019-20 season resumes, and whether the top Russian goalie prospect ever will don the team jersey remains unclear.
The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced on Monday a tentative agreement on a wide-ranging return-to-play format and collective bargaining agreement extension. Under the new agreement, which still must be ratified by both sides, unsigned draft choices such as Sorokin, a third-round pick in 2014 whose KHL contract expired on April 30, will not be eligible to compete in the NHL this season.
However, the unsigned draft picks are eligible to sign an entry-level deal and have the first year considered completed — or burned — by the conclusion of this season. So Sorokin could sign a one-year entry-level deal and be able to sign a more lucrative deal as a restricted free agent for next season.
Sorokin, who will turn 25 on Aug. 4, is a former KHL playoff MVP who led CSKA Moscow to the league’s championship. Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, a fellow Russian, has called Sorokin the best goalie not playing in the NHL.
However, would Sorokin want to wait until December or January — when the next NHL season is expected to start — to play again? The KHL season was suspended during its playoffs in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that league’s training camps typically open in early September.
Sorokin demanded a lucrative deal to re-sign in the KHL. And just because he indicated his desire to come to North America upon the conclusion of his KHL deal, that’s not a slam-dunk that he wants to play for the Islanders if he believes he might split too much time with Varlamov, who is in the first season of a four-year, $20 million deal.
That could force Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello to decide the best course is to trade Sorokin’s rights to another NHL franchise.
The two sides have talked since Sorokin’s KHL deal expired, but both were waiting for clarity on whether Sorokin would be eligible for the rest of this NHL season.
That has been the case in the past for unsigned draft choices. For instance, defenseman Cale Makar, a likely candidate for this season’s Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, joined the Avalanche for last season’s playoffs after completing his college season at Massachusetts-Amherst.