With Bernier Off the Market, What Will the Islanders Do in Goal?

Kevin Schultz

Last week, Newsday reported that the Islanders were interested in Los Angeles Kings goalie Jon Bernier. How serious that interest was, well, we don’t really know. What we do know is that over the weekend the Kings shipped Bernier to a team that didn’t necessarily need a goaltender but traded for one anyway.

The Kings traded Bernier to Toronto for forward Matt Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens, a second round pick and retained $500k of their salaries. It’s not a bad trade for what is essentially a backup goaltender who could (should) challenge to become a starter in the NHL. But no one really knows for sure what he will be, so it’s kind of a guessing game and Toronto is guessing that he’ll be good. The odd thing is that they already have James Reimer, whose 19-8 record, .924 save percentage and four shutouts were literally what got Toronto to within one period of the second round of the playoffs. But enough about that stuff, this is an Islanders blog (Toronto thoughts here).

The Islanders, I guess we can assume, weren’t willing to pay the price of two prospects and a pick for the still unproven Bernier. If the Islanders dangled Niederreiter as trade bait, he’s easily better value than Frattin or Scrivens, so maybe it could have been done for Nino and a pick, but we really just don’t know the answers to these things.

Regardless, the Islanders still have a need to fill in goal this summer.

Over at Pro Hockey Talk after the Bernier trade they re-ignited Roberto Luongo discussion, including the Islanders into one of a trio of teams that make sense as a destination for the Canucks netminder. What happens with Luongo likely comes down to how long the Canucks are willing to wait around until they make a move with Luongo, and they’ve already been waiting a long time. They had their dance with the Leafs over the winter and trade deadline, but nothing came of it and now the Leafs have solved their goalie problem. There aren’t really a whole lot of suitors, so maybe the price will come down, but this has been going on so long it’s hard to believe the Canucks will be hard pressed to lower the price.

Then there are the three players the Islanders still have who could be full or partial solutions; Evgeni Nabokov, Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson (for those asking Mikko Koskinen is still in europe and there hasn’t been any movement on that front).

Last year, the Islanders re-signed Evgeni Nabokov in late March, about a month after the trade deadline. There has barely been any noise about Nabokov so far this year which — and this is just me hypothesizing– is a sign that the sides aren’t seeing eye to eye. However, in that Newsday report about Bernier, Arthur Staple wrote that “both sides [are] relatively close on a contract.” Free agency starts on July 5th this year, and we’re less than two weeks from Nabokov being free to leave. This looks like it could come down the wire.

Even if Nabokov does stay, the Islanders goaltending isn’t totally solid. I’ve said it a lot of times on this blog that Nabokov didn’t have a great season, and I’ll spare you from more of that dead horse, but even if he does come back goaltending will still be an issue with this team. If Nabokov returns and the Islanders don’t make an aquisition, the question becomes ‘can Kevin Poulin play?’

If no one new is added, Poulin and Nilsson will have an equal chance to play for the NHL roster spot at camp, but my money is on Poulin as Nilsson missed a lot of time due to an illness last season. It’s also about time that one of those two got a chance in the NHL. At some point they have to be battle tested, even if it is in a split role with Nabokov or someone else.

There are still a lot of ways the Islanders can go. Last year Garth Snow pulled Lubomir Visnovsky out of a hat for a second round pick, and maybe he can do the same with Luongo or another netminder this weekend at the draft. However it happens, the Islanders will have to look outside Nabokov for the coming year.

At this point, there are a lot of options but none of them are clear cut.