With the move recently to try and sign Christian Ehrhoff (A move I disagree with for the reasons outlined here:), Garth Snow has shown he's willing to go for a big splash, even if it costs a bunch of money and multiple years.
So now the question is: who do you make a big splash on? Where are the Islanders' holes?
Well the Islanders' problems last year were as follows, from least important to most important:
1. The Third and Fourth lines could not get the puck out of our own zone, preventing us from maximizing the skills of our top 6 forwards.
2. The Defense was terrible at keeping the puck pointed in the right direction
3. Our goaltending was beyond awful, led by horrible horrible Rick DiPietro
Of these, #1 and #2 should be fixed a good deal just naturally: the 3rd line will get stronger as Nino Niederreiter joins the squad (he should make the NHL at some point next year), eventually Ryan Strome and other prospects will join as well (Kabanov most likely to make the big impact in my opinion), and of course Josh Bailey is still young and will probably (hopefully) improve.
Meanwhile our D improves naturally as injuries are gone (Hello Mark Streit), and our prospects are really close De Haan will make the team at some point this year, though he'll probably start on the Bridge, with Donovan probably in the same situation. And of course, Hamonic (and AMac) is still very young and will only get better.
But #3 is an enigma: The Islanders have several goaltending options, but they range from an injury-prone player who was epicly bad the last year (Rick DiPietro) who the team is unfortunately heavily committed to, to a bunch of young guys and Al Montoya, who are essentially cyphers at this point. None of the guys has put up a large enough sample size for us to make any real judgment as to their quality. In other words, we can't say that any of these guys will even end up with a career as an average NHL netminder.
Goalies are ridiculously hard for teams to predict, you see, because well, the difference between a terrible goalie and a great goalie is not a lot of shots going in the net (in Al Montoya's case, if he lets in 5 extra goals spread out, he's suddenly a below average netminder). Thus goalies are prone to putting up great or terrible numbers one year, and suddenly putting up the opposite results the next year (Tim Thomas' last three years show this phenomenon).
So essentially the only clear way to identify great goaltenders is to have multiple years to look at. Quoting Timo Seppa of Hockey Prospectus: " the only four goaltenders to post top-20 save percentages every season since the lockout, [not counting 2011] were Vokoun, Lundqvist, Brodeur and Luongo." Counting 2011, Brodeur leaves that group, leaving 3 players we can clearly point to as elite goalies.
And one of these guys is on the market: Tomas Vokoun. And for some reason, because he seemingly had an off season (only 10th best in SV%, oh nos!) and somewhat due to age (a very reasonable complaint, he's 34), he's not being talked about as a huge free agent, though he's thought likely to command a good bit of money (Probably slightly less than the 5.7 M per year being given to Brzygalov). The age concern is likely to scare off most teams, and is a legitimate complaint for teams who are low on cash and are near the cap.
But the Isles aren't near the cap and apparently CAN spend some money on a big marquee player this year. The problem is that there really are no stars they can beat out other teams for or that fit needs. But Vokoun IS such a player. Put it this way: the difference between 2011 Rick Dipietro in goal for 54 games (the amount of time Vokoun played for the Panthers) and 2011 Tomas Vokoun essentially amounted to SEVEN WINS.
What this means is this: If you changed nothing about the Isles but the goalie from DiPi to Vokoun, assuming both played for 2/3 of the season, the Islanders would have essentially FOURTEEN MORE POINTS IN THE STANDINGS. That's a HUGE increase, and would essentially ensure that the Isles would be in contention next year even if their players didn't develop any further.
LONG TERM, obviously this would be a risk, and probably would hurt the Isles a little, but by that point we might be able to know if we have a great goalie in Poulin, Montoya, Koskinen, or Nillson.
Really, there's no big splash we could make that would make as big an impact - 7 whole wins - as signing Tomas Vokoun. All the Isles need to do is to not be afraid of the contract and to realize that DiPi is a sunk cost at this point. I think it's well worth it.*
*The Isles won't sign Tomas Vokoun btw....I have no illusions on this matter. But it is the best move they could make.