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What should the Islanders do about their goaltending situation for next year? A look using Marcel Projections

"I could dig it here." - Bruce Bennett

Despite the 2014 draft coming up, the biggest question for the New York Islanders is not who they should take 5th, but how the hell they're going to solve their goaltending situation. It was clear prior to the last two years this was a problem, but the Isles in both years elected to stay with the status quo, and the situation has only become worse and worse each year. It's now clearly untenable - even Snow can't keep Nabby on as a starter anymore.

Meanwhile, the pipeline has ZERO alternatives. They've got to go out of house for solutions to the problem.

I've been doing some work on hockey-graphs on projecting future performance of goalies over the last two months. The final post in the series is coming up today (April 19) and includes projections of every goalie with significant minutes this year and some past data (so no Frederik Andersen). And what it reveals is that the free agent goalie market is kind of lousy for solving the problem.

Below are how those goalies project over the next three years, which is a reasonable expectation for the length of contract the Isles will want to give an incoming starter:

Halak: .913
Elliott: .912
Greiss: .912
Miller: .909
Montoya: .909
Peters: .909
Hiller: .908
Dubnyk: .907
Thomas: .906
Emery: .905
Giguere: .904
Gustavsson: .904
Nabokov: .898
Brodeur: .896

For reference, NHL average is .914, and the median NHL team managed a total .913 between their starters and backups last year. (The Isles of course, were at .894, because Isles gonna Isle.) Basically, none of these guys is projected to be an average NHL goalie over the next three years! (If you want to know how that's possible, it's due to the effects of aging.) And then there's a clear top 3 and then there's a drop off, and one of those three (Greiss) has a serious sample size issue. And Halak won't come cheap.

Brian Elliott probably deserves a closer look. His well deserved reputation from his prior seasons, plus the fact that St. Louis traded for Miller over him, will lower his likely contract, and his results over his last few years are a huge bit better than his first few seasons. Over his first 3761 shots, he had a .901 SV% (and a .907 EV SV% on 2954 shots). That's awful. But on his last 2179 shots, he has a .927, which is incredibly good (at evens, that's actually .932 on 1820 shots, which is insanely good). Elliott's also 28, so the effects of aging won't be huge. In short, if you can sign him to a decent deal (let's say $3.5 to $4 million per year over 3 years), you probably should go for it. But even then you're getting a below average starter, although not by much.

And see, that's the problem here: If you have a slightly below average starter, you probably need at least an average backup (part of the Isles' problem was their backups this year made Nabby look great). Greiss might be affordable as such, but this is probably dreaming.

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Okay so UFA goalies aren't great, but aren't there a few who might be available for trade? Let's talk James Reimer and Braden Holtby:

Reimer's projected for a .912, so again slightly below average. That said, that includes #s from a year played with a concussion, so it's certainly possible that it understates his ability. And at age 25, aging isn't much of an issue. You're not going to get an elite goalie in Reimer (probably), but Toronto has trashed his value so much he's probably very affordable (a third round pick for Reimer seems fair, for instance). Reimer is definitely available this offseason, so he's very much worth considering.

Holtby may be more of a dream than Reimer. Holtby is only 24, and is probably only available if Washington resigns Halak. They really like Halak and seem to have soured a bit on Holtby, but Halak will be asking for a lot, and a few sites seem to suggest he's not going to be re-signed. (Note that the Isles' odds on getting Halak and Holtby are basically nil for this reason).

But if Halak is retained, Holtby will likely be available. And he's a REALLY good option if you can get him - projects as a .915 over the three years, so slightly ABOVE average. He's had a "bad" year this year, but odds are that's fluky, and even then he's been NHL average. And at age 24, he's not getting worse that fast. That said, Washington got a bounty for their last goalie traded (Varlamov), so they may want a lot more than what Toronto can ask for in Reimer.

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Conclusion:

In short, the Isles need two goalies, and the options out there are limited. To be truly safe, the Isles should get three goalies, but three NHL goalies is probably out of their price range....I'd suggest a one-way minimum level deal to a consistent but stuck in the AHL goalie like Drew MacIntyre might solve the issue (MacIntyre's a 30 year old AHL .919 goalie) - such a guy would probably be okay as an emergency call up, be cheap, and would at worst help Bridgeport not be a laughingstock again.

In reality, getting Elliott and Greiss, or one of the trade targets (preferably Holtby) and Greiss would be optimal. God forbid however, that the Isles give a big contract to a goalie over 30 like Miller or Hiller -- that's a recipe for certain disaster. By contrast, signing one of the available goalies and say trading for a goalie prospect (a Gibson, Subban, etc.) is reasonable, although still very risky.

UPDATE: The full projections for all relevant goalies can be found HERE: http://hockey-graphs.com/2014/04/19/projecting-future-goalie-performance-updating-and-improving-hockey-marcels/

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