No longer satisfied with the play of a once-elite, 30-plus goaltender on the downswing in Evgeni Nabokov, the New York Islanders are apparently vying for the services of another in Buffalo Sabre Ryan Miller, as Bruce Harrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Clearly someone in Islanders upper management can see the holes in this master plan. If not, goaltending, unfortunately, is among the least of the Islanders' worries, which really would be saying something, considering they lead the league in goals against per game.
Nevertheless, according to Garrioch, general manager Garth Snow has indeed been calling teams, specifically Buffalo, to upgrade his goaltending.
Now, Nabokov is admittedly out with a groin injury. Meanwhile, the bulk of duties in net have fallen onto the inexperienced shoulders of backup Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson. Miller would be technically replacing the two latter goalies and not Nabokov.
Still, one has to think that if the Islanders were to acquire Miller, a former Vezina Trophy winner, he would become the de facto starter, no matter the shape of Nabokov’s groin. Although, one has to think such an emasculating scenario wouldn’t exactly do wonders for his current condition.
The fact is Miller, who will been an unrestricted free agent, isn’t as much of an upgrade over Nabokov as his Vezina Trophy win would lead fans to believe. After all, that was four whole seasons ago, when Miller was in his prime at age 29 and able to post an impressive save percentage of .929.
However, he hasn’t been able to post one above .920 since then, perpetually stuck in the .915-.917 range, which is quite average in NHL terms. Better as it may be relative to Nabokov’s .892 save percentage, it makes little sense for New York at this point to turn over additional assets to the Sabres for a shot at the postseason when the first trade hasn’t exactly panned out.
That first one would, of course, be the deal that saw Thomas Vanek moved for Matt Moulson and two draft picks, which, on paper, admittedly looks kind of decent with the Islanders in theory getting the best soon-to-be UFA in the deal.
However, Moulson, having scored 11 points since the trade, has actually been more productive than Vanek (nine). Considering Moulson now plays for a team that ranks last in goals for in the league with less than two scored per game, that has got to hurt.
So, with the Islanders now 14 points out of a playoff spot just 30 games into the season, Snow’s solution in theory is to continue to go for it? Unless he’s vying for Buffalo’s open GM position, it's probably not wisest move.
That isn’t to say New York can’t stand to improve in net. It’s actually the team’s great Achilles’ heel (yes, apparently you can have more than one). Despite having allowed a decent 29.7 shots against per game, the Islanders have given up 3.40 goals per game.
To put it all in the proper perspective, New York arguably hasn’t gotten stable play in net since the starter posted a 32-19-9 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average back in 2006-07. That was seven years ago. More significantly, that starter was Rick friggin’ DiPietro…which pretty much sums it up.
The play of DiPietro, the poster boy for bad contracts, obviously fell off a cliff soon thereafter (along with him, if his laundry list of injuries is anything to go by). Yet the Islanders are looking to replace him with Miller, a goalie who had this to say, according to Rotoworld.com about New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist’s insane seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension:
I thought it was actually lower than he was probably going for. I anticipate with the TV deals and such, the cap is going to keep going up. Maybe it will seem like a pretty average price down the line.
So, seeing as re-signing Miller is clearly out of the question now—although one would have hoped the team would have learned its lesson signing bad contracts way back before DiPietro with Alexei Yashin—the only thing for Snow to do now is look elsewhere.
Maybe he can pry either James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier away from the Toronto Maple Leafs. If that fails, the Anaheim Ducks seem to have a surplus of talent in net. Alternatively, the Detroit Red Wings seem to be embroiled in a goaltending controversy of their very own between Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavasson.
In short, there really isn't a shortage of talented netminders that in theory should be available. It’s up to Snow to find the right one and pay the right price this time.
One way or another: If he doesn’t, considering his entire body of work as GM (including the 15-year DiPietro contract), he really won’t end up calling the Sabres just about their goaltending.