TRUE VALUE: EVGENI NABOKOVWhat to do with the NYI's best and healthiest goalie?

In July, Evgeni Nabokov will turn 36, more than five years younger than Dwayne Roloson. For the entire first decade of this century, Nabokov was one of the most durable, reliable and accomplished goaltenders in the NHL’s regular season. Before his misstep a few months ago, when he chose not to report to the Islanders after they acquired him on waivers when his heart was set on the Red Wings, Nabokov had always been regarded as a likeable and low-maintenance goaltender. In a fraternity full of flakes, a few capable of demoralizing a team, he is not Craig Anderson.

Still, there is one reason – and really, only one reason – why Nabokov will have some value in the trade market at the draft, during the summer and into training camp. In a market in which many quality goaltenders have had to go into the butterfly to beg for one of the 60 jobs in the NHL, Nabokov will be pursued for one main reason.

For the entire 2011-12 NHL season, he is under contract for just $570,000.

It doesn’t matter that he had a shaky 22-game stint in St. Petersburg last season before calling the KHL quits, nor that he failed to rise to the occasion at the recent World Championships. Evgeni Nabokov, who made at least $5 million in each of his last four seasons in the NHL, will be paid less than Al Montoya and just about every other NHL goalie in the upcoming season.

Nabokov’s agent, Don Meehan, did a very smart thing yesterday. Meehan informed Katie Strang of Newsday that the goalie will “absolutely” report to Islanders training camp in September. The message was clear: Nabokov will do whatever it takes to resume his NHL career. After a messy honeymoon, the goalie and the Islanders will fake a harmonious marriage until a trade does them part.

Who else will be in camp? Montoya will be there after a few months of rest and rehabilitation. A week after Montoya had surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered at the Worlds, the Islanders got around to announcing it. Top goalie prospect Kevin Poulin will attempt to return from a dislocated kneecap, the second such injury of his promising young career. Rick DiPietro played 39 games over the last three years, and was not in the lineup for the season finale of any of them. Mikko Koskinen is not ready.

Do the Islanders want to allow Nabokov to wear their crest – even for one exhibition game – after he embarrassed the franchise and himself last season? Do they want to carry three goalies on one-way contracts? It isn’t their first choice, to be sure. In a perfect world for the Islanders, GM Garth Snow is able to move him next month for a third round pick or as a sweetener to move up in the draft. Or perhaps he could make a similar deal to his trade of Roloson to Tampa Bay. The Lightning didn’t think twice about sacrificing defense prospect Ty Wishart, a decent player but a small price to pay for the revenue created by a lot of home playoff games and the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Snow will also want to ask himself if he can stomach trading two first-rate goaltenders to contenders in the same calendar year without getting a difference-maker in return. He has a strong working relationship with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. But unless Snow can pry a legit second-pair defenseman or regular-shift forward, why would the Islanders hand over Nabokov to a division rival, a contender that has beaten them regularly for four straight years? The Islanders have no motivation to do anyone any favors where it concerns Nabokov.

This has been a strange saga with a lot of twists, and it may continue into the regular season. Nabokov, who suffered a mild groin strain at the World Championships, happens to be – with little argument – the healthiest and most qualified goaltender on the Islanders’ roster. This is a team with a goal of making the playoffs. Nabokov could end up being a lot more valuable to the Islanders as a goalie than as a trade chip.

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