Dwayne Roloson answered any question that lingered about who would be the Isles starter by the end of the 2009-2010 season. During last year's off-season, the Islanders signed Roly to a two-year deal to be Rick DiPietro's 1-A back-up that could handle a heavy work load if he were to injure himself for the umpteenth time. However it became clear that Rick wouldn't be ready once Martin Biron was signed to a one-year deal.
By season's end, fans had their answers; Dwayne Roloson will continue to wear an Isles jersey after surviving the waiting game called the trade deadline; Martin Biron will find a new home by the start of the 2011 season; Rick DiPietro is still rehabilitating.
So pretty much the Islanders have hopped back in their Delorean, gunned it down the strip to 88 miles per hour, cranked up the juice to 1.21 gigawatts, and have went back in time to the same problems they had before last year. Do not expect DP to start the season with Roloson. The Isles will have to likely find another net minder until Rick is completely healthy (if he can ever play again).
Although Koskinen and Poulin, two highly-touted goaltending prospects, have been signed to their respective NHL entry-level contracts, it would be incredibly premature to assume that either one of them will be ready for the big show.
That means Garth Snow is going to have turn his head towards free agency, making goaltending a top priority along with a top-6 forward and top-4 defenseman.
Sitting at the top of that free agent list are Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov, but you can expect them to sign somewhere else. They are both at the age of 35 and are probably going to be looking for multi-year deals with teams that are potential contenders. Since the Isles plan is to get Rick back on track, Turco and Nabby are probably going to ignore the Isles phone calls if any are made since they probably do not want to be traded in March (or not traded, the same fate that fell upon Biron).
That leaves Vesa Toskala, Chris Mason, Jose Theodore, Ray Emery and Dan Ellis.
Toskala has struggled to solidify himself as a reliable starter in the NHL since leaving San Jose, and Emery, well...he has always been a problem. Whether it's his attitude or injury issues, as he missed almost 3/4 of last season with the Flyers because of the latter, Emery seems to be unable to get it right.
Jose Theodore may be looking for a new home as he is expected to be parting ways with the Washington Capitals. Semyon Varlamov has outplayed him in each of their past two playoff runs. But Theodore's numbers during the regular season were great. In 47 games played he went 30-7-7 with a 2.81 GAA and a 0.911 save percentage. However, he did have an offensive machine playing in front of him in Semin, Backstrom, Green, and of course, Alexander Ovechkin.
Chris Mason had a decent year with the rebuilding St. Louis Blues. In 61 games played, Mason had a record of 30-22-8 with a 2.53 GAA and a 0.913 save percentage. Mason would be a good short term solution, but the Isles may be better off if they signed a younger goaltender if Rick is unable to compete again. Let's face it, no one wants to say that the guy is going to retire, but you would have to be completely irrational to rule out that possibility given his struggles over the past two years.
That is why I would like to see the Islanders sign Dan Ellis, the back-up goalie from Nashville. In 31 games played, Ellis amassed a 15-13-1 record with a 2.69 GAA and a 0.909 save percentage. He is also only 31 years old with only 3 years of full-time NHL experience under his belt. In his first full season with the Preds back in 2008, Ellis had a 23-10-3 record in 44 games played while posting a 2.34 GAA and a 0.924 save percentage. He still has plenty of years left in him and could be Garth Snow's "diamond in the rough" type of signing. He may either blossom into the Isles' future starter, or be the perfect back-up for Ricky.
If free agency rears it's ugly head and doesn't work in Garth's favor, he may look for trade partners. There was a rumor that the Islanders were going to make a deal with the current Stanley Cup Champs in the Chicago Blackhawks. The trade winds (or twitter feeds) were mentioning Cristobal Huet and their first round pick for Sean Bergenheim and Dwayne Roloson. For those of you who remember, the Isles played the Blackhawks that night and Huet was pulled in favor of Niemi as the Isles went on to win 5-3 in regulation after Roloson stood on his head all night.
Huet is 35 years old and has two-years remaining on a contract that pays him close to 6-mil a year. Rick's contract pays him 4.5 million a year for the next, 10, 11 years? Sorry to say that it's been easy to lose count after not seeing him on the ice for so long. Although Huet put up respectable numbers, going 26-14-4 with a 2.50 GAA and 0.895 save percentage in 48 games played, his contract may have been the deal breaker back in March and may continue to be the deal breaker this summer. If the Isles are to take on his contract, they may want some more bang for their buck coming back in their favor. The Hawks will be looking to clear some cap space this summer, so anything is possible.
What would you do if you were in Garth Snow's shoes?
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**Correction on the early trade rumor that I mentioned. It was for Huet and their 1st Round Pick, not Huet and Byfuglien**