by PuckStopsHere on 02/21/12 at 05:02 PM ET
Goaltending has been an issue with the New York Islanders. They have auditioned more goalies than any other team in the league in the last couple of years. In 2006 when they signed Rick DiPietro to a fifteen year contract worth $67.5 million, they thought they had this problem solved for the foreseeable future. That hasn’t worked out according to plan. DiPietro has had significant injury problems. He has averaged fewer than 12 games per season over the past four years and put up some rather weak numbers while doing it. The islanders have looked elsewhere for goaltending.
Dwayne Roloson was the starter at the beginning of last season. He was playing well but due to his advancing age and the fact the Islanders were not in playoff contention they opted to trade him to Tampa Bay. They got back wanna be prospect Ty Wishart who at age 23 is not an NHL regular yet.
With Roloson gone and DiPietro hurt, the Isles goaltending was a group of non-NHL ready players. Kevin Poulin a QMJHL graduate who was acclimatizing to the AHL became the pick. He hurt his knee and had season ending surgery. Nathan Lawson, a career minor leaguer was the next candidate. Backing him up was Mikko Koskinen, their 2009 second round draft pick, who wasn’t NHL ready. This was clearly not good enough. The New York Islanders traded for Al Montoya, a former first round draft pick, who hadn’t established himself as an NHLer. He cost them only a sixth round draft pick. Montoya played like he belongs in the NHL.
In search for another goalie, when Detroit tried to bring Evgeni Nabokov back to the NHL on a cheap contract the Isles claimed him on re-entry waivers. Nabokov was unhappy with things and sat out the remainder of the 2010/11 season. This was a crazy move for both Detroit as they had no chance of getting Nabokov on their roster and for Nabokov as sitting out a half season did nothing to help his career. The season on Nabokov’s contract was tolled to 2011/12 and Evgeni Nabokov finally joined the Islanders in training camp this year.
The Islanders began the season with three goalies in Nabokov, Montoya and Rick DiPietro until the traditional DiPietro injury. During Islander injuries, Kevin Poulin had another shot and so did Anders Nilsson, who had come over from Sweden. This gives the Islanders eight goaltenders used in the last two years.
What is the future? Evgeni Nabokov has been their number one goalie so far this season. He is signed for the remainder of the year at a cheap rate and was reluctant to come to Long Island in the first place. While he is settling in, he is an unrestricted free agent in the summer. There is no reason to assume he will stick around. This might prompt the Islanders to trade him, but it would leave them with a significant hole in net. Al Montoya has been a below average, but NHL level goalie this season. Rick DiPietro has been his usual injured self. Kevin Poulin is the next choice and he is more of an AHLer than an NHLer.
The Islanders have their best goalie in a couple years in Nabokov. He is a free agent this summer and will quite possibly leave the organization. The Islanders have some desire to re-sign him and he might be willing, but at age 36 he will not likely be a longterm answer. They may be prompted to trade him. Without Nabokov there is no clear number one goalie in the system. Montoya is likely backup quality. Poulin or any other goalie candidate is likely not an NHL calibre goalie. A healthy DiPietro might be a solution, but that doesn’t exist. The Islanders will be in the market for a starting goalie again this summer unless Evgeni Nabokov sticks around and that has never been a good bet - although it looks better than it did when the season began.
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