The New York Islanders made a somewhat surprising move in free agency when they chose to bring back goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on a one-year, $3.25 million contract. It’s an interesting move, but it’s also a disappointing one for an organization that really could have used an upgrade between the pipes.
Not that there were a wealth of options out on the market. The Isles could have made a run at Ray Emery, but he was among the first to sign on Friday. The trade market is thin as well, but they may have been in on Jonathan Bernier before he was traded, or Roberto Luongo, before the man in front of him was.
Nabokov had some very good moments for the Islanders in 2013, but there were also some very deep lows. Those lows came particularly in the postseason, where Nabokov has always been pretty brutal. And to pay him as much as they’re paying him this upcoming season just seems like a mistake on its own.
What the Islanders are going to need is for one of their young goaltenders behind Nabokov to step up next season, perhaps to the point of even supplanting him as the no. 1 guy. That means that either Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson will have to make a pretty significant jump in their level of play.
Poulin may only have the upside of a backup, but he’s only 23 and has just 17 starts to his credit, spread across three seasons. Nilsson, on the other hand, likely represents the goaltender of the future for the Islanders organization. Are they hoping he can jump all the way to knocking off Nabokov as the no. 1 guy?
Probably not. What is likely happening is that the Islanders saw a lack of options, went with what they know in Nabokov, while giving Nilsson another year, which would be his first full season, at the AHL level. In the mean time, Poulin will need to step up and perhaps even steal some starts for Nabokov. Perhaps a lighter workload, of Poulin can grab a larger handful of starts than a backup typically takes, could mean more success in the postseason for Nabokov.
We’ll see how this shakes out when the regular season gets underway. The future of the Islanders’ goaltending may be bright, with Nilsson on his way, but it may be another tough year to watch if it’s going to be a full helping of Nabokov between the pipes again in 2013-14.