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?
- Niklas Backstrom may be available, but he’s currently 35 years of age
- Nikolai Khabibulin isn’t the same goalie from ten years ago
- Mike Smith is no guarantee
- Ray Emery played well, but is it a product of the Chicago Blackhawks system?
- Anton Khudobin is a project
- Dan Ellis has problems (#DanEllisProblems).
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?