Who plays goalie for the New York Islanders in 2013-14 is going to be a hot topic on fans' minds all summer...and frankly well into the season.
In fact, even if the Islanders make a move this summer for a "name" goalie, it's still going to worry some fans because goaltending is pretty volatile and NHL goalies can go from Calder- or Vezina- or Jennings-winning seasons to scapegoats in the span of a year. As many a general manager has discovered, even when you make a bold move to finally fix an issue in goal ... it doesn't always work out.
But that doesn't mean the Islanders shouldn't keep looking given their current assets in the crease.
Among the brand names available for no acquisition cost other than the contract itself, Ilya Bryzgalov is coming off a buyout and burnout in Philadelphia, and Tim Thomas is coming off an entire year off at age 39.
Among the brand names possibly available for trade, Ryan Miller has some baggage in Buffalo and at least the perceived start of a decline at age 32, Jaroslav Halak has had injury troubles and a poor 2013-14 capped by a spat with his coach, and Anaheim has a surplus of goalies whose questions range from small track record to Jonas Hiller's concerning health issues two years ago.
Again, just because there are questions about every possible solution -- and I'd include the recently traded Jonathan Bernier and even Corey Schneider in that "well there are still questions" category -- doesn't mean the Islanders shouldn't stay active on this market.
Because here is how they look at present:
Evgeni Nabokov -- The incumbent starter was re-signed, but his stats put him in the bottom third of the league's starters. Plus, at his age you should be prepared for a dropoff any time.
Kevin Poulin -- The incumbent backup after Rick DiPietro was demoted, Poulin has a lot of work to do to rebuild his case as a prospect, as his stats have worsened the past two AHL seasons.
Anders Nilsson -- Same as Poulin, though Nilsson's 2012-13 was basically a throwaway season due to a medical issue that proved elusive (eventually thought to be a vitamin deficiency, then a food allergy to gluten and dairy).
Kenny Reiter -- Reiter's modest pedigree shouldn't be used against him, but he's still essentially a longshot despite good work in brief stints with Bridgeport (the rest in the ECHL) last season.
Parker Milner -- The "did he sign or not?" drama was only a drama for devoted Isles fan corners of the Internet that can actually obsess over this stuff in mid-summer. It appears he does have a contract, though not an NHL one, and in any case the former Boston College goalie is quite a longshot and certainly not to be counted on for any kind of NHL work in 2013-14. (It would be great to eat those words, but ... not happening.)
So that's where things stand at present. Is five too many? Well, if you have the chance to land an established NHL goalie that improves your situation, you don't let Parker Milner or Kenny Reiter stand in your way.
And interestingly, one team that has even more goalies under pro contracts right now is Ryan Miller's Buffalo Sabres.
Sabres GM Darcy Regier says at this point he's unlikely to trade Miller before the season, but the fact he's addressing it so openly and mentioning the contract as an obstacle is another sign that Miller is in play. The Sabres have six goalies on pro contracts and, if Miller stays, they're faced with the prospect of having to find ECHL work for two of them.
Specifically to the possibility of moving Miller or Tomas Vanek, Regier said, "Any discussion that I have now involves taking back money, moving money...money plays a very big role."
Similarly, in St. Louis Doug Armstrong is talking as if he has no problem retaining all three of Halak, Brian Elliott and upcoming Jake Allen, but the reality is his team is still over budget even after the David Perron trade and he would no doubt love to have someone make him a nice offer for Halak's $3.75 million hit.
The common thread here is that at least two teams have shopped their proven NHL goalies but not found offers that make parting with them palatable. That means the offers are low. That means it could be a buyers' market. However, that conclusion is only true if multiple teams like the Sabres and Blues want to move their extras so badly that they're willing to take a distressed asset price by the end of the summer.
For Isles fans, even though the urgency is felt now, the answers may not be known until things shake out -- or stand pat -- in the fall.