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NHL Free Agency: So...who will the Islanders goalie be in 2018-19?

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As the free agent goalies hop around, who will replace Jaroslav Halak?

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Dallas Stars v New York Islanders
This is how the tandem ends.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While all eyes are on the John Tavares saga, other business must carry on. For the New York Islanders, a primary point is who will be their goaltender(s) in 2018-19.

The pickings on the free agent market are pretty slim, but you can make the case for a couple of options like Carter Hutton, Robin Lehner or Jonathan Bernier.

As the free agent flirtation week nears its end, Pierre LeBrun offered a handicap of the goalie market this morning, reinforcing that the Buffalo Sabres are most likely to land Hutton (a UFA from the Blues), and the Detroit Red Wings sound likely to get Bernier (same, from the Avalanche).

Cam Ward is not a desirable option for the Isles in my view, but I suppose we should address that LeBrun says he’s likely headed to Chicago.

Theoretically the Islanders need to add only one goalie, since Thomas Greiss is under contract. But he’s coming off a career-worst year, and the buyout window doesn’t end until June 30. Combine that with Lou Lamoriello’s approach of “if you have time...use it” and we can’t say for certain right now that Greiss will be back. But it’s a decent assumption for this exercise.

Who Does That Leave?

Assuming LeBrun’s forecasting plays out, that leaves a few options.

Other free agents:

  • Robin Lehner, who didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Sabres
  • Petr Mrazek, who wore out his welcome in Detroit and certainly didn’t please the court in Philadelphia
  • Jaroslav Halak, who...the Isles know well

Trades:

  • Jimmy Howard has long been rumored to be available from the Red Wings, though they don’t sound eager to part with him even if they do land Bernier. Howard has one year left on a contract with a $5.29 million cap hit. He’s 34.
  • Cam Talbot of the Oilers has appeared in a few rumors. This sounds less likely, but you never know with Edmonton. After an outstanding first year as the starter in Edmonton he struggled like the rest of the team last season. He has one year remaining at $4.17 million cap hit and is 30 years old.
  • Steve Mason, 30, could surely be had from the Jets, who would like to clear cap space and try to re-sign Paul Stastny. Mason was signed to be their number one but lost that job and has one year left at a $4.1 million cap hit. Like many of these other candidates, however, the former Calder winner has had more bad years than good years.
  • Craig Anderson. I added this name (again) after posting the story because the Isles have reportedly “kicked the tires” on him. Please, no. Not in 2018.
  • Jake Allen. (Okay, this one isn’t happening, but there was a universe in which it might have made sense: If the Blues had re-signed Hutton, they have a hot prospect/heir apparent in the AHL, and this would get them out of the Allen Question (and contract), which is clouded by decades of goalie anxiety in St. Louis, made worse by Allen’s sudden bouts of poor play behind an otherwise good team. Yet Allen on aggregate is still a good goalie.)

What does the new braintrust want?

The irony here is of the two Islanders goalies last season, Greiss, who we assume is staying, had by far the worst year while Halak, who we assume will walk, actually rebounded somewhat. Yet a year ago it was basically the opposite (see also: Goalies are voodoo). And given the colossal disaster of the Islanders’ defense in front of them, it’s hard to put either goalie at full fault for their 2017-18 numbers.

2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
Former Providence, Devils and Islanders goalie Chris Terreri at the Isles table at the 2018 NHL Draft
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the X-factor is the new regime in charge of the Islanders. Longtime Lou Lamoriello friend and former Devils (and Providence College under Lou, and even Islanders, briefly) goalie Chris Terreri clearly has a role. He was seen consulting on the draft floor before the Islanders selected Czech goalie Jakub Skarek on Saturday.

And the new coach, Barry Trotz, has a longtime relationship with goalie guru Mitch Korn, who was his goalie coach both in Nashville and Washington. No official announcement nor media report has been made on whether Korn will have a role with the Islanders, but you can bet Trotz’s preferences are informed by Korn’s knowledge of the position.

I’ve been high on the idea of Hutton, whom the Islanders had contacted, but I should concede that if it takes a three-year commitment for the 32-year-old — as Craig Custance of The Athletic and others have said — then that does contain some risk. Perhaps the new braintrust didn’t even want to go that long, paving the way for a team like Buffalo to be in the lead.

Suffice to say, no solution is a sure thing and each remaining option has risk. We don’t even know which Islanders goalie from last season has the best chance of returning to at least league-average form. (Oh, and the league approved more form-fitting chest/shoulder protection in the on-going effort to reduce the size of padding; Halak is one of the smallest goalies in the NHL.)

But at some point, likely quite soon as the other dominos fall, we’ll get a better idea of what the new regime is thinking about this position. Frankly, it is the most important non-Tavares question in front of them.