The biggest question on my question list is who will be the goaltender for the New York Islanders?
A question that may have seemed a bit silly just before the playoffs as they had Evgeni Nabokov back-stopping them to a fairly impressive playoff series against the mighty Penguins. You would think that Garth Snow would have an extension ready for the aging but still competitive net-minder, while the younger replacements get more NHL seasoning.
There was a thought that maybe Rick DiPietro would make a comeback for the Islanders since he is under a heavy contract that would help get the Isles to the salary cap floor, and maybe have his last chance at proving he is worth the big money he was offered. Unfortunately for both parties, this saga will come to an end.
Rick DiPietro has only played 46 games in the last five season for the Islanders and has not been able to post anything close to the numbers that earned him his big contract. The Islanders will be buying out DiPietro’s contract that will yield him $1.5 million a year for the next 16 years, all the way to 2028-29.
Kevin Poulin was the young goalie backing up Nabokov last season, and while he has 20 starts in the NHL over the last three years, he still has not proven that he can backstop an NHL level team on consistent basis. The fact that the Islanders made the playoffs last season raises the expectations for everyone on the team to do even better this year, and without a proven net-minder this will not happen. Kevin Poulin is a RFA that will probably sign a short term deal and get a bigger chance to prove himself over the longer 2013-2014 season, but he is not the answer for the Islanders.
This leaves us with pretty much just the free agent pool of goaltenders, and while Luongo never made it into this pool, there are some good candidates.
The top of this list is Ilya Bryzgalov. The time he spent in Philly was not as fantastic as everyone hoped it would be, but since both him and the team have moved on, no need to dwell on it. What we need to do is take a look at if he fits with the Islanders. Bryzgalov has put up fantastic numbers with both the Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes, but failed to find the same success with the Flyers.
Do the Islanders take a chance on him? I think so. He is bound to go for a discounted price, not only due to his “reputation” but also having two paychecks sort of speak, and he will be playing in Brooklyn soon. Brooklyn is not only a very comfortable place for Russian born players due to a large Russian population located in the New York borough, but it is not too far away from Philadelphia itself where he currently lives. There would be about twice as less pressure playing for the Islanders as there would be playing for the Flyers, something Bryzzy might like. A competitive offer might yield a good result here as I doubt Ilya would want to go to a pressure cooker market like Edmonton again.
The other aging wonder who has been rumored to have run out of money or can food in his bunker is Tim Thomas. Islanders do own the rights to this gentleman until July 5th before he becomes an UFA. While in my eyes a long-shot, a comeback on a team that is going to be an underdog might be just what the Dr. ordered for Tim Thomas. If he does visit and test the market on another team, he might be met with very high expectations considering the way he left the sport, be it on a very high note. But who knows what he has left in the tank and his goaltending style does rely heavily on cat like reflexes and can be best described as “unique”. I can also see this being a one year deal for both sides as a win due to a low salary to help the Islanders and a short deal to help Tim Thomas prove he can still play to help secure a big money long term deal.
Nikolai Khabibulin had fantastic 12 games for the Oilers last season, though it was his contract year after all and it was only 12 games. Is it enough to have the Islanders give him a chance? I mean Nabokov was an old Russian goalie and he got them into the playoffs with not exactly fantastic play, so why not give the Bulin Wall a try?
The issue with the Bulin Wall is that he is VERY OLD. At the tender age of 40 years old he might not be able to handle 60-65 games this season and will require to have a strong back-up. A case can be made to give Kevin Poulin a chance to start proving himself on more regular basis, but I do not see that as splitting the season 40 games each. If anything I see the Bulin Wall as a possible back-up with an ability to mentor a young goalie. But to rely on him as a starter is not something I would highly recommend.
Jose Theodore is another aging gripe that has seen the better days of his career fade away. He did help back stop the Florida Panthers to a playoff appearance back in 2011-2012, but seemed to never get into a similar grove during the lockout shortened season. I really think that he can still play and play well. Fundamentally sound goalie like him can carry age well and he still definitely has game left in the tank. What he needs is a team to start him and play him a lot to help him get into a groove. His best numbers have come when he played over 52 games a season and the Islanders really can afford to play him 57-65 games this season. There is no doubt that Jose will go for about 1.5 to 2 million per season and with a short-term deal to boot. That is everything the Islanders will want from a goalie right now as they are searching for a franchise tender to lead them into the future.
So, who will it be? My bet is on Jose Theodore or Ilya Bryzgalov. For obvious reasons both would be helped with playing lots of games for a franchise that is not a pressure cooker for goalies. Sort of a way to disappear into the team identity and be just part of the team and not the broken part that is preventing a team from winning. The Islanders can benefit from a goalie who can play lots of games and provide some sensible stability for a team that is forging their identity in front of our eyes.
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Main Photo Credit: Robert Kowal, Wiki Commons, CC