Isles Problems Between Pipes Cause for Concern
Evgeni Nabokov’s return to action was short lived.
The Russian stopper, who hadn’t played for a week, went down to make a save just over 4 minutes in to last nights game against Detroit – and didn’t get back up.
Nabokov suffered a groin injury, which Isles Head Coach Jack Capuano said was likely to keep him out for at least “a couple of weeks” during the post game press conference.
It now sounds like Nabokov could be out for as much as a month, perhaps more.
The injury is ill timed for a team trying to snap out of a recent funk. It also further highlights how fragile the Isles are between the pipes.
Nabokov was a stalwart for some excellent San Jose teams in the mid noughties, but his best years are undoubtedly behind him.
He has been a solid veteran presence for the Islanders however, helping them get back in to the post season for the first time in 6 years last term. There are consistency issues and at 38 is clearly not a long term option for the Isles; but he is, for the moment at least, the Islanders number one netminder.
On a team that has a worrying lack of depth in the position, losing the Kazhak born netminder is a huge blow to the clubs aspirations.
Kevin Poulin started all three games last week, and is now 3-5-0 this season. The Montreal native has potential, but has limited experience (only 29 NHL games to date) and as such it is still unclear exactly what level he can play at.
With his veteran partner on the shelf, it is undoubtedly a fantastic opportunity for the 23-year old to show what he can do. Beyond Poulin, there is a worrying lack of options available to the Islanders right now though.
As Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported; Anderson Nilsson has been called up to cover for Nabokov’s absence:.
The young Swede has hardly been in scintillating form for Bridgeport so far this year, but options are limited if the Isles aren’t willing to look outside the organisation.
Mikko Koskinen is playing in Russia for KHL outfit Sibir Novosibirsk, leading the league in both goals against average and save percentage. Prospect Eamon McAdam is starting his rookie year with Penn State in the NCAA, whilst Stephon Williams is in his second season with Minnesota State University.
Alongside Nilsson, that is the entirety of the Islanders goaltending depth chart.
What compounds the clubs problem, and explains an initial reluctance to look elsewhere for a replacement, is the lack of available goaltenders via trade or free agency.
Ilya Bryzgalov has signed with Edmonton, and there aren’t really any other NHL calibre goaltenders readily available as free agents.
Ryan Miller’s availability was brought up when the Isles acquired Thomas Vanek. Arguably the most ‘available’ netminder in the NHL, many questioned whether Garth Snow ever brought up Miller’s name in conversation with (now former) Sabres GM Darcy Regier.
It may be that Miller’s partial no trade clause stopped any such conversations dead in their tracks – it has already nixed a move to Edmonton this season and there are 7 other teams on that list; of which the Isles may be one.
It is hard to imagine Miller moving until Buffalo’s front office changes are complete; with the Sabre’s new GM likely to want to take stock of what he has and work with new Director of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine to figure out which direction the franchise is heading in.
Now, with Bryzgalov and Miller out of the conversation, the market for goaltenders is almost non-existent. The Isles would likely have to give up a lot to get any sort of decent return in a trade; even for someone capable of playing as a 1A/1B or sharing role with Poulin. For the sake of a month, when Nabokov might return, the price could simply be to high.
Equally, again due to the relative lack of available goaltenders right now, to get someone capable of being a genuine starter for the long term would likely involve a hefty return going the other way – a problem that is exacerbated by the lack of a 1st round pick to use as a bartering tool; with the Isles first selection at the 2014 draft going to Buffalo as part of the Vanek trade.
The next few weeks will likely tell us much about the Islanders in the long term though. If Poulin performs well, the club will probably give him their support going forward (i.e. he’ll get the chance to succeed Nabokov as #1) and remain ‘as they are’ in the short term.
If Poulin drops the ball, then maybe Garth Snow will have to make the biggest move of his managerial career to finally fill a role the franchise has been grappling with since Rick DiPietro’s first injury ravaged season in 2008.
Because this isn’t the first time the Islanders starting job has come under the spotlight.