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NY Islanders Look Ahead Part 1: Goaltending

nhl evgeni nabokov trade rumors

This is part one of a 4 part series that will focus on the future outlook of the team, following their first playoff appearance since 2007.

This season, Evgeni Nabokov was a major factor in the Islanders making the playoffs due to his outstanding performance in the second half of the season. With that said, the 37-year-old goaltender put up very poor numbers in the postseason, drawing questions as to whether or not he is part of the team’s future. Kevin Poulin only played in 6 games this season, putting up a .893 SV%, the first time he has been under .900 in the NHL. At age 22, the question is whether or not he is ready to play 50+ games in the NHL, having never played more than 10.

Tim Thomas was acquired by the Islanders in February, taking on his $5-million cap hit, strictly as a move to put the team above the cap floor. The Islanders do have the option to make him play next season, for Thomas did not receive his salary money, as the Bruins tolled his contract. Thomas put up spectacular numbers with the Bruins, but his age and personality make him unpredictable. To state the obvious, the Islanders have a goaltending dilemma to deal with.

Here are a list of five possible routes the Islanders could go regarding goaltending;

  1. Sign Mike Smith, Age 31, Team: PHX
    1. Mike Smith drew some serious attention when he led the Coyotes’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2012. That season, Smith posted a .930 SV%, worthy of some praise. However, in this shortened season he had a .910, starting in only 34 games. With the cloud surrounding the future of hockey in Phoenix, it is very safe to assume he will be seeking more money, and a winning team. The Islanders made the playoffs last season and looked strong. This, plus the fact that the Islanders will have a boatload of cap space (projected to be over $29 million), Smith could find his new home on Long Island.
  2. Trade for Ryan Miller, Age 32, Team: BUF
    1. Ryan Miller is Ryan Miller… that is really the only way to put it. The 32-year-old Olympic medalist has never had a season with a SV% under .910 since 2004. He is a seasoned, all-star tender who has been the backbone of a struggling Buffalo franchise for the entirety of his career. At age 32, he will at least play 4 more seasons, and his numbers show he can do it. Buffalo, who fired Lindy Ruff this past season, is a rebuilding team who has hinted at Miller’s availability.
  3. Trade for Roberto Luongo, Age 34, Team: VAN
    1. “My contract sucks,” seems to be the theme of Luongo’s woes as a Canuck. The former all-star has had nothing but drama surrounding him, since before he publicly stated he wanted to be traded. The Vancouver franchise had been shopping Luongo at the deadline, but a deal wasn’t reached and Luongo remained a Canuck. That being said, it is no secret that both the team and Luongo want to split from their counterpart. The Islanders drafted Luongo in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, only to have him become a Panther in 2000. The fact that the Islanders drafted him could be a plus for the team’s relationship with Luongo. Luongo wants to leave badly, and the only minus that comes with Roberto Luongo is his disgusting contract, one that doesn’t expire until 2022.
  4. Sign Al Montoya, Age 29, UFA
    1. I was a huge fan of Al’s when he was an Islander. Posting great numbers in the 2010-11 season, and making some amazingly memorable saves in the process. The worry surrounding Montoya is to whether or not he can return to a SV% above .910, after only playing in seven games this season. A goalie tandem of Kevin Poulin and Al Montoya may just be the tandem of the future, or a total disaster. It is no question that Poulin will play more than 20 games next season and Al would have to be very strong for the rest. In my eyes, if the Islanders make a move and pay more money for a quality defensive top four d-man, I can see this move working out.
  5. Re-Sign Evgeni Nabokov to split time with Kevin Poulin
    1. Knowing the Islanders, this seems like it is the most probable case for the 2013-14 season. Poulin is the Islanders “goalie of the future,” and the team is committed to their youngsters. This move is only assuming that Nabokov doesn’t retire this offseason, as his playoff interviews may be evidence against that. Poulin has never really had a chance to play a string of games, and if you were to ask any NHL netminder, they will all say a starting job is much different than that of a reserve.

There are many other routes the Islanders can take, but in my opinion, the aforementioned are the most probable and the options with the best outcomes.