May 11, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) leaves the ice following the overtime period of game six of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Penguins won the game 4-3 and won the series 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Garth Snow's Summer To-Do List: Go Fishing...for a Goalie?

NEW YORK, NY–Now that the Islanders’ season is over, couch GMs have returned to their computers to call for action and collectively speculate  upon the possibilities for the 2013-14 roster. The following is basically a summary of what I’ve read since the Islanders were eliminated just over one week ago:

  • John Tavares needs a top-line winger, and it better be Bobby Ryan or Thomas Vanek
  • The Isles are “in need of a top-pairing defenseman, and if it doesn’t happen, fire Snow”
  • Goaltending a top priority because Evgeni Nabokov couldn’t handle the Pittsburgh Penguins

I’m not going to disagree: I think a top-line winger, a top-pairing defenseman, and goaltending are all needs the Islanders will have to address in the near future, but I don’t expect all of these to occur simultaneously, and within a given season.


The Islanders need an established top-line winger to play alongside Tavares, something the team hasn’t had since Tavares was drafted in 2009. Brad Boyes will be replaced if he is commanding anything near what PA Parenteau commanded in 2012, and even if he returns, Boyes is an answer, but not the answer.

The team also needs a top-pairing defenseman, something for which the Isles have searched since the start of their rebuild. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald play top minutes, but it wasn’t the best-case scenario regardless of how well they played down the stretch. And with Mark Streit most likely headed off the Island, the team will have to scramble to replace their most productive defenseman, who averaged the second highest ice time during the 2013 regular season.

But that which is truly needed here is goaltending; and to make matters even more intriguing Evgeni Nabokov wants to stay on Long Island [irony meet Evgeni; Evgeni, irony]. Some of Nabby’s critics pawn him off as nothing short of a short-term solution to a pressing issue–a flimsy band-aid for an otherwise nasty gash.

But let’s take a step back shall we? If for but one moment:

As the Islanders starter for the past season and a half, Nabokov has played an integral part in helping his team turn the corner. Nabby’s record as a member of the Islanders is 42-29-15. During both of his seasons with New York, Nabokov has posted records over NHL-.500, which is the first time an Islanders’ goalie has done that since Rick DiPietro did so back-to-back-to-back seasons from 2003-04 to 2006-07. That’s quite impressive, considering Nabokov took over a club that finished as a lottery team in 2012.

And for everybody ready to dismiss Nabby as an NHL starter, I say it’s difficult to ignore his resume. Nabby has accumulated 335 wins over his 12-year career, and has posted a record of 335-207-29(ties)-61 over 646 career games. Should the Islanders really risk losing, arguably, their most accomplished player on the roster?

Yes, I get it. We all want Jonathan Bernier. Just because the Isles can trade Kevin Poulin, Brad Boyes, and a 2nd-round pick in NHL 13 for Bernier (yes, it happened) doesn’t mean GM Dean Lombardi is going to say “THAT’S A GREAT DEAL” if Garth Snow comes a-calling. What happens if that deal cannot get done, because there’s a very good chance that it will not? Have you seen what else is out there?

The Islanders’ AHL goalies aren’t quite ripe yet, either. Sure, if Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson are given the back-up job, I think they should play 25 to 30 games this season. They still aren’t ready to be handed the starting job. I say, make them earn it.

Look:  Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t spectacular if you look at the 2013 season as a whole, but he was so down the stretch. Without his stellar play in March and April, the Isles were not talking hockey in May; rather, they would be talking draft party. Nabokov is a proven NHL starting goalie. Those don’t grow on trees, and it’s not necessarily something you just want to throw away.

I say bring Nabby back on a one-year deal, unless Garth can make that one deal?

But what do you think, Isles fans? Is goaltending THE top priority this summer?


Tags: Anders Nilsson Evgeni Nabokov Kevin Poulin New York Islanders NHL Offseason

  • William Mirando

    Need scores and def

    • Chris Triantafilis

      I agree. A big defenseman with scoring ability would be great. A skill-forward would be nice too. There are holes, but only few. They need one or two more top guys.

      • Charlie Brucia

        We need to find those guys while not making too many big roster changes

        • Chris Triantafilis

          I agree, Charlie. The team’s core is good. Isles have to find creative ways to make this team better while keeping most guys here. Make the players fight for roster spots.

  • Craig Morgan

    nabakov gave a goal every 5 shots during the playoffs. he was absolutely horrible. some of the shots he let in i saw stevie wonder save.

    • Chris Triantafilis

      I think Nabby played poorly in the playoffs. I also think the Isles will be better off keeping him than gambling with what is available in free agency. The Isles have a reliable goalie that can get them to the playoffs. Winning, well that is some Pittsburgh offense.

      Now, if Garth can land a top goalie via trade without breaking up his current team, I am all for it. I just think if he can’t, Isles should stick to what they have in Nabokov.

  • Brett Nev

    defenseman and a goaltender are the biggest things we need to fish for maybe a forward to replace boyes

    • Chris Triantafilis

      I like Boyes, but I don’t think he’s a top-line winger. Production was pretty good, but consistency as a whole wasn’t. If Isles can keep him another season, add a top-line winger via trade or within (Strome, Nino), offense can be near perfect.

      I think defense and goaltending are top priorities. In regards to goaltending, with little in free agency, I say re-sign Nabby for one more year unless Garth can land the big one.

  • Charlie Brucia

    I think either Strome or Niederreiter could be that top line winger we need. Also, i hate how people write off Nabby! He is one of the main reasons we went to the playoffs this year! Give him another shot! Our main priority should be defense, but NO major roster changes!

    • Chris Triantafilis

      The only way Isles make a major roster change is if they can add a star player to this roster. The core is set, otherwise. I think Strome and Nino blossom into something great for this team. Eyes on Brock Nelson, too. Kid will be a stud.

      Nabokov should get another year, play 50-60 games over 82 instead of 40+ in a 48 game season.

  • Matt Baxter

    Keep Nabby

    • Chris Triantafilis

      I agree. At least for another season. I don’t think it’s the first priority, although it’s definitely on the to-do list. Nabby is most likely as good as anything out there in free agency.

  • Scott Hamill

    Keep BOYES, BAILEY hasn’t raised his game yet, he should have come on strong last year, though i like him, don’t think he’ll raise his game any further than we’ve seen, add 2 LATE ROUND PICKS, P/U A TOP D PLAYER. GOALIES are like pitchers, you can’t pick a top one of another roster at any price, only in free agency.NABOKOV was really good since his hold out, as for the playoffs, wait and see who else the PENS beat, THAT GOALIE is probably better than ours, so the playoff stats mean nothing, as a whole, the PENS TALENT IS STILL WAY AHEAD OF US, 1-2 YEARS WORTH, WE WON 2, LOST 2 IN O.T., LOSING 2 IN O.T. SAYS MORE ABOUT OUR STRENGTH THAN THE PENGUINS, THOSE 2 COULD HAVE GONE EITHER WAY, AND WHILE I’M PROUD AS HELL, THE PENS WERE SCARED. Since 1972, the first draft, till now, i’ve stuck with my team, SNOW is doing exactly what TORREY did, 3 years, we will win the CUP!

    • Chris Triantafilis

      Isles are in their best shape in over two decades. I have faith in Bailey, who looked good this season. Not necessarily top-10 good, but he should stick.

      I liked Boyes as well. Maybe he’s not a top-line winger, but if Isles can sign him for another year or two on a cheaper-end contract, go for it. Isles future is bright. It’s about adding a few pieces around the core.

      I find it hard to blame Nabokov. Let him return on another 1-2 year deal.

  • Lance Brandon

    We finally are at a solid place roster-wise, we still need a stud winger to go w/JT, but bailey showed enough this year to dance between lines 2 & 3, which will help more than anyone sees right now. I like Vanek but are we really going to pay him about $2,000,000 more per year than Tavares? No. If he takes a paycut, great but Bobby Ryan’s cap hit is around what Tavares’. However, its our time now to be a contender annually and to do that, we may have to overpay a guy or two. We are like my Oakland A’s, not a lot of extra money, but when you have to build your roster primarily off the draft and NOT free-agency you have to be about 2 or 3 years ahead of the curve…and we are finally there! I had hopes of Jamie Benn coming to the Island but that was shot down when he signed an extension. Let me know what wingers and D-men you guys are thinking about or have heard about!

    • Chris Triantafilis

      I’m not there yet, in terms of knowing what exactly is out there. I have to do a little bit more digging, and will in the next week or two. I know Vanek, although injury issues scare me. I know Ryan, but I was never 100% sold on him. I’m most curious to see who are the casualties resulting from amnesty buyouts.

  • Lance Brandon

    Also, lets not forget about Brock Nelson from my home state of UND, the kid is looking like a beast, I think he will contribute next year more than bailey did this year!

    • Chris Triantafilis

      Between you and I, Brock Nelson is the prospect I am most excited about.

      • Lance Brandon

        I hear you brother. He was a stud for the Sioux, he, Parise and Toews are like hockey royalty in North Dakota. Sounds like Brock has put on about 15lbs. to get to 6’4″ around 215lbs. and I believe he led Bridgeport in scoring…big, strong, can skate, pass and shoot. I was at an Irish pub for game six and there were a lot of people that wanted to see him play…he got a salty check on one Penguin but not a lot of ice time!

        • Chris Triantafilis

          Kid is just what this team needs. He’s going to be in this league for a long time.

  • Daz

    First, I don’t know how you can go into the season with Poulin or Nilsson as the backup, let alone for 25-30 games. They were below average goalies at the AHL level last year. How can the team expect them to succeed at the NHL? And giving either of those kids NHL 25-30 games? That is not a recipe for making the playoffs. The best thing for them would be to split duties at BPT and allow the team to assess their future in the next offseason.

    Second, while we all appreciate Nabby’s play, the bottom line is he’s a below average NHL starter. His save percentage was 22nd in the league last season. His WL record is nice but WL is not a good way to assess how a goalie is performing.
    I’m not sure who’s the answer is but a tandem of Nabokov & Poulin/Nilsson is not enough for a team tryiing to imporve on this year’s results.

    • Chris Triantafilis

      While I agree that wins-losses isn’t the best way to gauge a goaltender, I was trying to use that point to show he’s been there. Nabby, although getting older, is one of the most accomplished active goalies in the NHL.

      So many people are calling for Mike Smith, but Nabby’s numbers were better this season. Nabby also had better numbers than Backstrom. Kudobin isn’t a starter, and neither is Dan Ellis. If we were talking a Smith/Nabby split, I would say go for it, but out of the guys available (bar Emery), Nabby is the better goaltender. I disagree that Nabokov is a below-average goaltender. I think that he’s on the decline, but he’s better than the scrap-heap that will be out
      there this summer.

      In terms of back-up, I agree that it’s hard to give Poulin and Nilsson the opportunity also, but I say go for it. I’m not convinced Poulin can’t handle back-up duties. If the Isles can sign a reliable back-up, sure, but again, we have to be realistic. Who’s out there? I guess the Isles can sign Dan Ellis, but I’d rather give the kids a chance.

      • Daz

        Problem with going with a backup goalie with questionable skill is that if we guess wrong we are screwed because it will be harder to sign someone once the season starts. You can always hide a forward or defensive prospect who doesn’t pan out but not in goal, especially if you want to lighten the load of your starter.

        I would see if you can get a guy like Khudobin and go with a tandem (with Nabby) that can be adjusted over the season based on how each performs. While you may be correct that there aren’t many talented UFAs in goal, most of them would be an improvement over Poulin.

        As for the other priorities, if you can get a high end winger or defensemen great but neither is as much a priority as goal in my opinion. We had the 8th best offense in the league next year and the defense did a pretty good job keeping the puck out of the zone (10th least shots allowe, I believe).

        • Chris Triantafilis

          I agree with you, Daz. If you guess wrong, it could be a real long season. Khudobin would be a good option as a backup, and if he excels, play him more often. I like that idea.

          And, although I do agree with what you’re saying based on the priorities, remember this: The defense did play well, but they lapsed majorly at times, and when they did, it was often a big mistake that would cost them. They do keep shot totals low, but they collapsed in several big moments. Perhaps it was by system’s design, but as an example, look at Strait on the first goal in Game Six, and look at Carkner on the third goal in Game Six.

          I would say the team has a major hole on forwards, defense, and goaltending, but just for each category. It’s about getting the right guy for each, but choosing which is most important. You say goalie, which is fine. If Isles do re-sign Nabby, they think otherwise, which can be fine too. I’m excited to see what happens after the playoffs.

  • Chris Triantafilis

    For argument’s sake, here are some numbers from 2013.

    Nabby: .910 save % and 2.50 GAA
    Smith: .910 save % and 2.58 GAA
    Backstrom: .909 save % and 2.48 GAA

    Is it really worth making a change?

  • Joe Geyer

    I fully agree we need a top line winger for JT, but are we really going to grab a FA or pay for a top winger with prospects? I just don’t see Garth doing it unless he gets blown away with an offer.

    I would like to see Strome centering the third line next season with Grabner and McDonald, but if the Isles brass thinks he’s a winger, why not JT Bailey and Strome on the top line?

    At goalie, I think Nabby’s coming back, but it’s time to take the training wheels off of Poulin and Nilsson, and let one, if not both, emerge as the future starter. Poulin was inconsistent last season, but he only played 5 NHL games, it’s hard to get in a rhythm with such sparse playing time. He has shown flashes of top level play, and next year will actually be his fourth NHL season, he needs a shot.

    Nilsson may end up actually having the better upside due to his size. As long as he has regained his health, give him the majority of starts in Bridgeport to shake off any rust, he will have a lot of chances to make an impact for the Isles in an 82 game season regardless.

    • Chris Triantafilis

      For sure, Garth will not overspend for a winger on the FA market. Trade, perhaps, but as you said, the offer has to be exactly what he wants.

      That first line idea is EXACTLY how I’ve seen it.

      Concerning your goaltending comment, I also agree. Time to take the training wheels off if the Isles feel one of them is capable as a back-up. Isles cannot ride Nabby (who I think will return) for 70+ games. I think Nilsson has the highest ceiling of the two, but I think Poulin is ready now. Poulin may shock some people, although he was highly touted a few years ago.

      Thanks for the comment.

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