The Fans Doth Protest Too Much: New York Islanders Goaltending

March 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders goalie

Evgeni Nabokov

(20) stands for the national anthem before the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I am often an outlier when it comes to hockey; my opinions not always lining up with the larger group. I try to be as realistic and understanding as possible, especially when talking about the New York Islanders and the issues they are having.

On the topic of Islanders goaltending, as much as I would like to see a change, I grasp the reasons why one just will not happen, at least not right now.

With that, here are some of those reasons why we, as fans, need to stop talking about goaltending and understand why Evgeni Nabokov is here to stay for the 2013-2014 season.

1) The Islanders cannot afford, nor do they want to, deal prospects: Ok, so we will never really know if that is true because of the “closed office” policy the management has maintained.

We can only assume trades like Nino Niederreiter (5th overall pick in 2010) to the Wild at the 2013 Draft (for Cal Clutterbuck and the 70th pick which turned in to goaltender Eamon McAdam) were mostly due to the need for toughness with an offensive upside and upcoming prospects.

Ryan Strome was headed to the AHL and players like Johan Sundstrom, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and others are becoming due for promotions, which left little to no room for Niederreiter in the top 9 forwards.

To place this more in perspective, think about P.M Bouchard and Peter Regin‘s one year deals. If the Islanders think they deserve to be re-signed because the aforementioned prospects are not yet ripe, then they will do so accordingly. If not, than Bouchard and Regin quietly walk away and the prospects fill in the gaps.

In essence, right now is not the time to be giving up prospects for a goaltender.

2)The goalie market: Even though the market for goalies is in the buyer’s favor, according to Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) and Tlyer Dellow (aka Mc79hockey), it does not always mean it is smart to trade for one to fill a need at this very moment, even more so if it means giving up more than you wanted. For Garth Snow, and the few other GMs who may be looking to fill a starting role, the 2014 free agent market may be a better option. As McIndoe states in his article, “the return on a starting goalie is all over the map.” (McIndoe: Ryan Miller and the Goalie Trade Market) Not only that, goaltenders stats are also all over the map. Consistent play in net is very hard to come by.

This does not mean Snow will not trade for one, but we can assume it is not in the plans at this very moment unless there is a drastic collapse or long-term injury.

Having said that, Snow is more than likely having conversations with other GMs with or without goalie problems to see what is available and for what price. Pretending that he is not is giving him much less credit than he deserves considering the team he has put together during this rebuild. We now know Snow was having talks with Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier for months about the trade that took place late Sunday night, which sent Matt Mouslon and two draft picks (1st round 2014, 2nd round 2015) to the Sabres and brought in Thomas Vanek.

And, to speak to my first point of the article, the trading of a first round pick let’s us as fans know that Snow is confident in the talent already accumulated as well as the ability to draft in all rounds. Snow also said it in his presser on Monday.

3) As fans, we should not act like every time Nabokov or Kevin Poulin gives up three or four goals Snow and the rest of management is sitting in the press box leaning back with their arms folded pleased with that they see. They more than likely understand there is an issue, however, growing pains on the defensive side of things and a lot of inconsistency has played more of a role than sub-par goaltending.

We have seen during Nabokov’s time with the San Jose Sharks that with even somewhat solid defense in front on him he can play well consistently. The Islanders do not always provide that, which, in turn, lowers his numbers and makes fans want to burn him at the stake. This means that we may see depth defensemen moved sooner than later as the team struggles to put together a legitimate six-man defensive unit.

On top of that, many fans on Twitter Sunday night proclaimed their disgust with Snow’s trade of offensive pieces and wanted to know why a defenseman was not targeted. Again, to think Snow is not actively seeking out the right pieces for the Islanders future success is just plain wrong. There might be, A) High price tags on skilled defenders or B) Not many to choose from.

4) As long as the Islanders are playing well, during the 2013-2014 season at least, Nabokov will be their man: The Metropolitan division is horrible (right now) and as long as the Islanders “keep running faster than the slowest person getting chased by the bear,” their chances of making the playoffs vastly improves.We know Nabokov can carry a heavy load, even at 38, and the Islanders’ coaching staff will be watching closely to see how far they can push him.

The one caveat to that may be if Nabokov becomes a backup or third goaltender for Russia in the Sochi Olympics. If I am Islanders’ management, I am telling Nabokov to turn down the offer, if it is even extended to him, and take the couple weeks to rest and regain composure.

5) The Rebuild: Even though the Islanders made the playoffs last year with an impressive run in the second half of the season and scared the pants off of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round bringing them to six games, we must remember that this is still part of the rebuild; they are not quite there yet. This is also the year Poulin gets to show what he is made of, and his contract alone can attest to that. The offensive and defensive pieces, by and large, have been put together carefully between prospects, free agents, and the waiver wire. Goaltending is the last piece and it becomes ever more complicated when you throw Anders Nilsson in the mix. If Poulin cannot prove himself and Nabokov calls it a career after this season, it could very well be Nilsson competing with a free agent goalie signing or draft day trade for the Islanders’ starting position in 2014-2015.

6) Trust: The most important thing to take away from all of these points is simple- the Islanders management, and frankly the entire team, trust Nabokov night in and night out. He is a needed presence in the dressing room bringing experience and knowledge to the team. And, on top of all of that, Nabokov has been and continues to be Poulin’s apprenticeship advisor.

Well, now that we have that out of our systems, let’s keep our cool and have some patience with our budding Islander team. Despite all of the mistakes and poor defensive play at times so far this season, the Islanders are still in the mix and more than competitive, most nights.

We’re 11 games in and this is a marathon, not a sprint.

– Jon (@jonzella)