Goaltending Question Looms as Free Agency Approaches

Kevin Schultz

Tomorrow, July 5th, is the start of free agency in the NHL. It’s pushed back a few days this year from the normal July 1st start due to the lockout. The Islanders head into Friday still without a clear option in net.

Last weekend, the Islanders failed to acquire a goaltender from the Vancouver Canucks, as Vancouver opted to hold onto Roberto Luongo (for now, anyway) and ship Corey Schneider to the Isles division rival Devils. A few impending free agents re-upped with their old teams, too; Nicklas Backstrom took a big pay cut to renew with Minnesota for three years and Seattle’s Phoenix’s Mike Smith re-signed with the Coyotes.

The Islanders are now left with only a few, not-so-appetizing, veteran free agents to choose from. There’s still a possibility that Evegni Nabokov could be back but he will be hitting the open market first, and I have a feeling someone will over pay for him (there still seem to be a lot of people who overrate his play last season, and I imagine there’s at least one NHL GM that will, too).

Ilya Bryzgalov, who is the crazy goaltender on the market, had worse numbers than Nabby and could be a sideshow given his ability to hand out wacky quotes to the media. He’s a good option but only if you can convince yourself he’ll somehow return to the form he had in Phoenix.

Earlier today Darren Dreger linked the Islanders to Ray Emery, who really only has one good season in his career, but in fairness to him has been stuck behind Corey Crawford in the bench on Chicago for three years.

The rest of the free agent list is available here, and it’s not very pretty. There’s 39-year old and just off sabbatical Tim Thomas, 40-year old Nikolai Khabibulin, and Florida’s Jose Theodore who had bad numbers and then missed half of the year with a groin injury.

It’s slim pickings in the free agent market, is the point I’m making.

Chris McNally of LHH wrote today that the Islanders could make a play for a diamond in the rough kind of goalie in free agency (the type of player Garth Snow has made his living on):

It wouldn’t be out of character for Snow to swing for the fences on an unknown. And while taking that risk in the crease is a lot riskier than taking it on a forward, it’s a risk Snow may be willing, and forced, to take.

The first name that comes to mind is Anton Khudobin. Khudobin’s numbers in the AHL were sketchy up until two seasons ago , when he had a .919 Save % in 44 games at Providence…

Three of the AHL’s top 10 goalies in Save % last season are unrestricted free agents. But all three (Daniel Taylor, David Leggio, Mike McKenna) sport little to no NHL experience and all come with their own question marks.

So there are options out there if Snow wants to take a chance in goal on a relative unknown. He has had success signing these kind of players before, but rolling the dice on a position as important as goaltender may not be the best idea.

And then there’s always the trade market, but whether that is real or imagined out of the fan’s/media’s desire to solve the goaltending equation is hard to tell. Ryan Miller seems to be on the outs in Buffalo and recently sold his town house in the city. The Ducks are in cap trouble and that could make Jonas Hiller available. But both those players only have one year left on their contracts, so it makes whatever players/picks it would take to acquire them that much more risky, as you would be potentially trading long-term assests for a short-term solution.

Whichever way the Islanders go to solve their goaltending solution, we may very well know the answer by this time next week. But it is still very much up in the air.