With free agency in the NHL just a few short weeks away, the New York Islanders are going to be looking to reload their hockey club in hopes for another run at the playoffs. With all three goalies on their roster set to be either unrestricted or restricted free agents, goaltending is an area the Islanders need to take a serious look at over the summer. Of the three goalies currently on the Islanders roster, the one I could see most likely returning would be Evgeni Nabokov.
Last year the Islanders finished 21st in the NHL in goals against, averaging 2.83 goals against per game. As for Nabokov, he is coming off of a good year, finishing 23-11-7 with a 2.50 goals against average and a.910 save percentage in 41 starts. Based on his numbers from last year, the cap hit for Nabokov is about $2.75 million. As a team, the Islanders have the most room to work with under the salary cap, with about $29.23 million to spend, so I really don’t think spending the money for a player is going to be a question. The other goalie the Islanders had on the roster was Tim Thomas, who they picked up in a trade from the Boston Bruins around mid-season. There is a great chance that he will hit the free agent market.
I would think Nabokov would be the best bet in net based on the free agency market. There are a few good goalies that are set to be free agents come July with Mike Smith, Ray Emery, Nick Backstrom and Chris Mason being just a few of the names. The price tag for Backstrom is a bit much as he had a cap hit of $6 million last year, which for me is a bit steep. Smith would be a good fit, but I really don’t think the Phoenix Coyotes are going to be willing to let him go that quickly.
Now as far as Nabokov is concerned, you have to take his age into consideration here. He will turn 38 years old in the middle of July, so time isn’t exactly on his side at the moment. The Islanders do have Andres Nilsson and Kevin Poulin waiting in the wings and Rick DiPietro still down in the minors, so there clearly is no shortage of goaltenders. If the Islanders want to get back into the playoffs again next season, I just feel at the moment Nabokov is the right man to lead the way in goal for this team. He played almost every game last year and was a big reason they even got into the playoffs. Without him in net I don’t feel the Islanders would have gotten in.
There’s really no way around it; unless the Islanders go out and spend money on another free agent goalie, Nabokov is their best chance to be a contender again for a playoff spot next season.
Matthew Solomon writes for Rant Sports. You can follow me on Twitter. Statistical information for this story provided by capgeek.com and nhl.com.