The New York Islanders opened free agency by completing their NHL goaltending picture: They've signed former Boston Bruins goalie Chad Johnson. Darren Dreger of TSN says it's a two-year deal worth about $1.3 million per season.
The move is a solid one, and settles the Islanders' longest-running unsettled position. You never know with goalies (more on that below), but the former Coyote, Bruin and Ranger (vomits) has trended well in recent seasons. He logged 27 NHL games with a .925 last season, by far his biggest NHL workload and best season to date.
Islanders GM Garth Snow headed into free agency with an announced intention we hadn't heard in a while: A new goalie (he got one ahead of time, a good one in Jaroslav Halak), and a veteran backup. (This was the stated desire last summer as well, but when free agency opened they quickly fell back on re-signing Evgeni Nabokov.) The fact the Isles showed tacit interest in Nabokov as that backup even this spring kind of shows you how this is a hit-and-miss operation.
But then that's the trouble with goalies, isn't it? They fluctuate, their big mistakes and best moments are what we remember most while the rest of the season is filled with more "normal" performance, and worse, it's hard to ever peg for a goalie what his "norm" really is.
As Eric Tulsky published just last night, in a must-read piece on "The lottery ticket approach to goaltending: How to exploit an uncertain market," the challenge is maddening:
And let's be honest: we're never really going to eliminate risk with goalies. They're hard to evaluate precisely and they fluctuate a lot from year to year, and that can't really be avoided.
So what to do when chasing a goalie, a position that has long eluded the Islanders (as evidenced by their dart-throwing at the draft in 2009, 2013 and 2014)? Go for a low-risk, potentially undervalued talent.
Still, if a team can find a guy like Halak, who has a strong track record yet still comes reasonably cheaply, they should take advantage of that.
Profiting from risk
There's another way to handle that uncertainty: a team can target relative unknowns who come cheaply. In this case, instead of trying to find a player with a strong-but-under-appreciated history, we're looking for cheap lottery tickets. This is how to make uncertainty work for you in a market for a variable commodity, by making multiple cheap bets and seeing which ones pan out.
We've seen several goalie prospects get traded in recent years. Some, like Semyon Varlamov, have fetched the types of high prices that teams shouldn't generally want to pay for relative unknowns. But some, like Sergei Bobrovsky or Ben Bishop, have been available for quite little.
Johnson, we can safely say -- as "safely" as you can say anything about goalies before they've piled up thousands of shots faced -- is not a Bobrovsky, nor a Varlmaov, and probably not a Bishop. (We forget it now because he's been good, but we still don't know what Bishop's ultimate long-term norm is.)
But he's a decent bet. And with the more proven Halak in the fold, the combo is an upgrade over any tandem the Isles have had since Wade Dubielewicz's poke check.