New York Islanders: What Evgeni Nabokov's Contract Means for the Team

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIMarch 24, 2012

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the New York Islanders in action against the Los Angeles Kings on February 11, 2012 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Kings 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Evgeni Nabokov recently signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders, thereby ensuring that his services would remain on Long Island through the 2012-13 NHL season.

The deal is reportedly worth $2.75 million and was clearly designed as a reaction to the veteran goaltender’s solid play for the Isles this season.

The 36-year-old Nabokov has compiled a 17-18-3 record while posting a 2.56 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 40 games this year. For a franchise still suffering from the financial aftershocks of the infamous Rick DiPietro mega-deal, stability in goal is clearly a priority.

Nabby is set to make over four-and-a-half times his salary from the 2011-12 year, in which he was on the payroll for only $570,000.

What’s more, the deal does not include a no-trade clause, meaning that if things go south for the Islanders—or Nabokov—next season, the team will have the option to trade him to a Stanley Cup contender without any difficulty.

Not that I’m rooting for that trade to happen, but the worst-case scenario for the Isles next season would be that they’ll have flipped an aging goalie for a mid-round draft pick. Although the rebuilding on the island seems to be never ending, draft picks are always a valuable commodity.

I’m not the first to say it, but it bears repeating—the Islanders organization got this one right. Signing Nabokov to a short-term contract was the best possible course of action if the team was truly going to deliver on its promise to establish a winning culture in Uniondale.

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 15: Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the New York Islanders walks out to play against the New York Rangers at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 15, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Rangers 4-2.  (Photo by
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Despite the recently announced price increase for season tickets—let’s save that topic for another day—the Isles have taken their first step to securing a successful offseason for the on-ice product.

Having Nabokov under contract gives the team a huge boost in goal. Obviously, Nabby’s numbers speak for themselves, but more important is the relief he offers the Islanders from mental strain.

If Nabokov had been allowed to sign with another team, the goaltending situation would have been the main source of nervousness—or even panic—as soon as the offseason arrived.

Without Nabokov in goal, the Islanders would have had to choose between Al Montoya (still not quite right after suffering that concussion this past December), DiPietro (still unable to stay on the ice for more than a few games at a time), or the combination of Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin (neither of which have won more than a handful of NHL games) as the starting goaltender.

Think about that for a second.

This team is slowly putting the pieces together—players like John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen have established themselves as quality NHL forwards, and prospects like Nino Niederreiter, Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan have shown promise (whether in the WHL, the OHL, the CHL, the AHL or the NHL).

Without solid play in goal, however, all the rebuilding that’s occurred over the past few years on Long Island will have been for nothing.

Any NHL front office executive would be pleased with a signing like this; having a solid veteran goaltender makes life much easier, particularly for the Islanders.

At the very least, re-signing Nabokov will allow the team more time to develop the young talent they have—especially with respect to goaltending.

Team owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow won’t be forced to bring Nilsson or Poulin up to the big club as a potential starting goalie for the 2012-13 NHL season.

Now that Nabokov and the team have agreed to continue their partnership through 2013, Nilsson and Poulin can be brought along slowly and will have the opportunity to learn at the highest level from a goalie who has recorded over 300 NHL wins.

Not a bad option to have if you’re running the franchise.

Oh, and that sound you heard after the ink dried on Nabokov’s new deal? That was a collective sigh of relief from the Islanders front office.

And maybe a few slaps on the back for a job well done.