Have the Islanders finally found their goaltender?
Evgeni Nabokov has revived his career on Long Island this season and carried the Isle back into the edge of the playoff race.
Suddenly Islanders GM Garth Snow isn’t in “sell” mode. For the time being, he is focused on keeping his team alive in the postseason race. Heading into a home game with Florida, the Isle was eight points out of the last Eastern Conference playoff slot.
“We have a lot of belief in that locker room,” Snow told ESPN.com. “Within the last few weeks, we've really turned it up a notch as a team . . . We have no intention of moving Evgeni. He's been great for us. His performance speaks for itself.”
Nabokov, 36, reluctantly joined the Islanders this season after failing to report to them the season before. After fleeing the KHL, he signed a free-agent deal with the Red Wings only to see the Islanders claim him.
When the NHL ruled that he belonged to the Islanders this season – to fulfill the contract the Islanders claimed last season – Nabokov joined the team this season as one of several goaltenders.
Would-be starter Rick DiPietro suffered another season-ending injury. Al Montoya failed to build on last season’s strong finish. Kevin Poulin returned to the AHL for more seasoning.
Nabokov emerged as the “go to” guy in goal and regained the dominant form of his Sharks days. His 2-1 overtime victory over the Kings was a typical stretch-run performance for him.
“We just have to find ways to win,” he told Newsday afterward. “Nothing else matters.”
Now it sounds like he would consider a contract extension from Snow. “I like what I see around here,” Nabokov said last week.
He has no-trade protection in the contract he originally signed with the Red Wings, so he might not agree to move to a contender in a back-up role. His best chance to drive up his UFA market value might be right where he is.
The Islanders appear ready to lock in their key players one by one, so it’ll be interesting to see if they put some money on the table for Nabokov.
DiPietro has a lifetime contract with the Islanders, but it’s been years since he has been healthy or effective. Does Snow really want to take a step back in goal?
Or does he finally want to move this long-languishing franchise back to NHL respectability?