In my last piece, I looked at improving an (in my honest opinion) average defense. Today, I'm going to look at what the New York Islanders most important issue is right now.
Good goaltending, or rather, the lack of it.
Right now, this is the Islander goalie depth chart:
Just kidding on the Cody Rosen part. Seriously though, while there are other goalies kicking it in the New York Islanders system, the fact is that they are at best one or two years away from being impact players - if ever. Kevin Poulin could become an NHL starter but he isn't exactly a game-changing prospect. Anders Nilsson had a weird vitamin B12 deficiency, and now that this is cured, could become a solid goalie down the road. Barring Kevin Poulin taking the reins away from Nabby and miraculously becoming an NHL starter, which could happen but is unlikely - although, again, goalies can come out of nowhere and be dominant - this roster is a little thin on goaltending. Let's look at Garth Snow's current options.
Option 1) Sign Free Agents
We all pretty much know the scoop on Mr. Universe. Starter for Phoenix, traded to Philly and given a ridiculous contract which he did not live up to - in part due to the Flyers having an awful defense. Guess what - he just got amnestied and after a couple months, he's still looking for a job not in Russia. Despite being offered a job in Vladivostok, which is getting an expansion team in the KHL, Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't signed over there yet. Maybe he could get it back in New York? I don't know but he's the best option out of the current crop of free agents. His numbers were pretty mediocre in Philly, posting .909 and .900 save percentages, but he wasn't bad playing behind the ultra-defensive Dave Tippett system in Phoenix. He could probably be gotten for cheap, but is he better than Poulin? My guess is that Bryzgalov is heading to a Siberian gulag next year.
He's old and it will be amazing if he can come back after taking a year off. I don't think Tim Thomas is a real option, but the guy has proven people wrong before.
Another decent option for a backup. He's 36 years old and probably better than Kevin Poulin, there are rumors that the Boston Bruins are close to signing him. We'll see, but signing Jose Theodore isn't a real game changer.
No real RFA options. Moving on.
Option 2: Trading for a Goalie
Since all the goalies on the free agent market are really old or have significant question marks, the only way Garth Snow can realistically improve the goaltending situation is via trade. There are a few potential options out there.
There are rumors that after Jake Allen came onto the scene in St. Louis, and after a mediocre season by Jaroslav Halak, that the Blues may be interested in moving him. There have been claims that Jaroslav Halak was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the Washington Capitals moving away from their offense first system, back in the days of Bruce Boudreau. The guy was pretty much amazing in the playoffs that year and got a mediocre Habs team to the conference finals. Jaroslav Halak is really good and if he's available, Garth Snow should trade for him. I really like Halak and he's had a tough time in St. Louis over the past few years. Personally, I think that the Blues would be crazy to go with a Brian Elliott - Jake Allen tandem. Brian Elliot isn't fooling me - I still think he's overrated and the Isles should not trade for him ever. But if the Blues are going to offload Jaroslav Halak, the Isles should be first in line, provided the price is right.
The Ducks have a lot of really solid goalie prospects, and goalies. Jonas Hiller has been their starter for a while, Viktor Fasth just had an amazing season, and John Gibson is USA Hockey's hero in net. Jonas Hiller is an average starter at best, which means that the Islanders shouldn't give up a lot for him. Viktor Fasth had a good season but he may have been a one hit wonder and John Gibson probably is out of the Islanders price range. Even so, if Gibson was possibly available, the Isles should go after him. If I'm the Ducks, I hold onto my goaltending depth for at least a year or so. But if the Islanders can get a goalie from the Ducks, do it.
James Reimer has been a beast in net behind some defensively challenged Leafs teams. However, the Leafs brain trust just traded for Bernier, an inferior goalie in every respect to James Reimer, and seems dead set on giving 'their guy' the starting job. James Reimer should not be available but if he is, the Islanders need to go after him. He posted a .924 save percentage last season behind a team that gave up more shots than anyone else. Out of all the players with the worse Corsis in the league, the Leafs were on top of that list. The Leafs also had a worse team corsi than any other team - that includes the Edmonton Oilers. James Reimer is the real deal. Why he is available is beyond me but if he is, snag him. Jonathan Bernier is reportedly going to try and battle James Reimer for the starting job, and if he does well, he'll probably get it.
Ryan Miller has been a good goalie behind some bad Sabres teams for the past few years. After winning the Vezina in 2010, winning Olympic Silver and being the MVP of the Vancouver Olympics Men's Ice Hockey tournament, as well as the best goaltender, he's still been posting consistently good save percentages, hovering around the .915-.916 mark. He is also available because the Sabres are tearing it all down and he probably wants out. He's 33 and while his best years are probably behind him, he's still a good goalie and he's still got at least 5-6 years in the tank.
Option 3) Wait for Next Year's UFA's
It's really doubtful that Henrik Lundqvist makes it to open market next year. He is one of the best goalies in the league. He's also probably going to ask for a ridiculous contract that will make life difficult for anyone to resign him. On top of that, he wants to remain a Rag. Probably not happening. If he does, I'd skip him just because he's too expensive.
For some reason, Oilers fans have it in for Devan Dubnyk. He posted a .920 save percentage on a terrible Oilers team. I saw a lot of Devan Dubnyk last season, and he's pretty solid. He's also young and all of these reasons are probably why he's not going to be available. But if Craig MacTavish doesn't resign him, the Islanders could do a lot worse than Devan Dubnyk. He's only 27, he's really big (6'5") and the idea of Devan Dubnyk coming to the Islanders is intriguing.
The Blackhawks will probably resign Corey Crawford for a reasonable contract. If they don't, he's pretty good. I've watched him in the playoffs for the last 3 years and I was always impressed with what I saw. He just won a Stanley Cup and should have probably won the Conn Smythe. He had a .932 save percentage over the entire playoffs last year. He wasn't impressive against the Coyotes the year before that, but he almost killed the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs in 2011, and it was pretty impressive. He comes up huge in the big games, and the Islanders would be smart to get him if he becomes available. I don't think the Blackhawks are going to give him up, but they gave up Antti Niemi last time they won a Stanley Cup and he's also been pretty impressive ever since.
Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak
I have already touched on these guys in the trade section. Jonas Hiller is, in my opinion, average as an NHL starter. Jaroslav Halak is the guy the Islanders really need to target.
Marty Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun, the Bulin wall, and JS Giguere are all free agents next year. The Islanders need to stay away from old goalies, except for as backups.
Option 4: Next Year's RFA's
Enigmatic Russian, streaky as can be, average at best, gives up fluky and soft goals like none other. I have to watch this guy a lot and he's not that good. Avoid.
The Leafs aren't going to give him a long term or a lot of money next year. The Islanders could really screw the Leafs over and snag James Reimer if he can keep his starting job. Then again, Garth Snow hasn't been doing a lot of offer sheeting lately and I don't expect him to start.
This guy is probably the most overrated goalie I have ever heard of. He posted a .910 or so save percentage behind an amazing defense in Nashville and suddenly he's the savior of Tampa Bay. He's not worth more than $2.5 million and he's not that great. I would skip Lindback because A) Tampa is going to resign him and B) He's overrated.
Option 5: Stay the Course
Not an option. The Islanders have no real game changing goalie prospects and Evgeni Nabokov isn't getting any younger. Unless the Islanders can draft a star goalie in next year's draft, I'm going to say that I don't expect Kevin Poulin or any of the other current Islanders prospects to come out and take the starting job in two year's time.
The Islanders have another year before goaltending becomes a critical issue. I think Nabokov has got another good year in the tanks, but I question whether he can provide two more years. If Garth Snow doesn't deal with this during the season, or during next year's offseason, the Islanders are going to be in trouble.
Out of all the options, I think Jaroslav Halak is the best one. He has come up big in the playoffs before and he is getting pushed out of the crease in St. Louis.
I don't think a lot of the young free agent goalies next year are going anywhere - Corey Crawford and Devan Dubnyk are both probably going to get resigned by their teams. If they are available, snag them.
Ryan Miller is the only other guy that should be on the Islanders radar. He's got a few more seasons left and he's a solid goalie. For the right price, he would be a good option for the Islanders. Don't overpay.
Ilya Bryzgalov might be a useful backup this season, but I question his ability to play his way back into a starting role. For a million, 1.5 million, over one season he might be useful. He's still not that young and he's never really been a big game goalie.
All in all, I think the Islanders need to go after guys who have come up big in the playoffs. They aren't cheap and they're not going to get any cheaper. The days of paying an amazing goalie $3 million a year are passing us by. $4 -$5 million is pretty much the going rate. The Islanders have the cap space and I wouldn't be surprised if they got a deal done mid-season or at the deadline. If not, it's going to be a stressful offseason for Isles fans next year.