"You're trying to take someone else's job, so it's pretty serious," he said. "No one's going to roll over for that job easily so you have to continue to work every day and continue to grow as a person and as a player every time you're at the rink."
>>Ryan Strome, not a goalie, but still... [nhl.com]
Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson. This is not exactly the plan, yet in a sense this was the plan all along: They were supposed to take someone else's job.
Even teams who think they are set in goal for the long run -- the type that sign 15- or 12-year contracts, for example -- must pepper the system with goalie prospects and places to play them. Because things happen. And boy, have things happened to the Islanders.
The Islanders had drafted Poulin in 2008 and signed him to an Entry Level Contract in May 2010, a time when it appeared Rick DiPietro would require a special owner's manual.
The previous summer (2009), the Islanders had:
- Drafted Mikko Koskinen (older, presumably "more NHL ready") with the 31st overall pick
- Drafted Anders Nilsson with the 62nd overall pick
- Signed Dwayne Roloson at the opening of free agency
- Signed Martin Biron a little later in free agency
The season after Poulin was signed (2010-11), goalie injuries again put the team in a bind where Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov were added too.
More fun between those days and the present included:
- a hip injury requiring surgery for Koskinen
- a knee injury requiring surgery for Poulin
- a confounding search through disorders (blood? nutrition? vitamin deficiency? gluten allergy?) to figure out what was ailing Nilsson for most of 2012-13
Now finally, ostensibly, both Poulin and Nilsson are healthy at the same time and, thanks to Evgeni Nabokov's groin injury, they are in the NHL at the same time.
In contrast to 26-year-old goalies who sign lifetime deals, when you sign NHL goalies in their late 30s (Roloson yesterday, Nabokov today), you expect injury and/or decline will grab them at some point. You expect to have to break the emergency glass during an 82-game season.
The homegrown Poulin (on his second contract) and Nilsson (finishing up his ELC) are that emergency glass. This was in the disaster manual, the prescribed response in the crisis plan.
Except "not yet established" does not quite describe them. If goalies are notoriously hard to project, nothing thus far projects that they will be good NHL goalies.
Anders Nilsson's AHL save percentage over the past two seasons is below .890. How much of that is to be ascribed to 21 games during his illness-battered 2012-13? Unclear, but he's at .880 through 11 AHL games this season.
Poulin fared a little better, posting a .904 over 32 AHL games in 2012-13. His .909 with the Islanders this season offers a little more hope, but it's through just eight games so it could offer equal amounts of noise.
Jack Capuano calls it an opportunity for Poulin. Indeed, with Nabokov's injury being projected in weeks rather than days, it's the best NHL opportunity Poulin has seen:
"I knew what we were getting with Kevin right from the start. He's a guy that's got swagger and attitude you want. [...] Just knowing him and the way he is, he's gonna take this opportunity and make the best of it."
And what if Poulin falters? What of Nilsson, called up to be backup -- he's the only other Isles goalie currently on an NHL contract -- but not exactly having a banner year in Bridgeport?
"Yeah I'd be ready to step in. It wasn't that long ago we had camp. I feel like I'm prepared. I've been there before, I know what it takes to play NHL games. Of course everything is a little better and faster, but that's the way it should be up here."
Everything is a little better and faster in the NHL, and we really have no idea whether Nilsson can handle it. As much flak as Nabokov has rightfully taken from fans for a .892 in his first 14 games this season, the goalies the Isles will rely on in his absence might not be any better.
So this is the plan, for now. But as was fretted here, there and everywhere over the summer, they might need a backup.