If the New York Islanders are going to convince John Tavares to stay with the franchise, they’re going to need a new starting goaltender. A big reason the squad missed the playoffs this year was because they gave up too many goals and New York’s goalie of the future (Ilya Sorokin) isn’t ready yet - plus he still has a contract in Russia.
Admittedly, it’s not the best summer to be searching for a goaltender. The free agency pickings are slim and I have to wonder if Scott Darling’s nosedive in Carolina will make teams wary of giving starter money (and role) to a backup on a good team again.
With that being said, the Islanders have to do something, so here is a brutally honest and down-to-earth look at some of the options GM Lou Lamoriello may have in front of him.
Pros: We know he’s a starter and at times, a very good one. It has already been established that the veteran is not long for Ottawa, so a trade is there to be made. In a more whimsical sense, Anderson always goes good year/bad year/good year/bad year and since this season was bad, next season must be good.
Cons: Dude is 37 years old; he may have played his last good year already as he enters his twilight. Plus, Anderson is signed for two more years at $4.75 million. If he doesn’t work, he’s an anchor.
Pros: He was really good this year! Hutton rocked a .931 save percentage for the St. Louis Blues and was much better than starter Jake Allen. Though Hutton was the backup, he did make eight straight appearances at one point. He’s also an unrestricted free agent, so the Isles wouldn’t have to surrender an asset to get him. Not only that, but he and Barry Trotz are familiar from their Nashville days.
Cons: Hutton could be the next Darling. He has never started more than 40 games in a season and he was playing for a pretty good Blues team that easily could have made the playoffs if Allen had been better. Also, there will be competition for Hutton (Buffalo, for example), so he won’t be cheap.
Pros: He’s the reigning AHL goalie of the year and helped the Toronto Marlies win the Calder Cup title. Sparks has some NHL experience and Lamoriello is familiar with him from his previous job in Toronto. In terms of upside, this may be the perfect time for Sparks to get a second shot at the Show.
Cons: Sparks’ first foray into the NHL was pretty dismal. He started off with an historic shutout in his 2015-16 Maple Leafs debut, but quickly fell back to reality, ending the season with 17 appearances and an .893 save percentage. Was he too young? Probably. But it still happened. Also, Sparks makes just $675,000 this year and is under contract with Toronto, so the Isles would have to pony up assets to get him - and the Leafs would have to be blown away to part with the budding netminder.
Pros: He’s on the market, as Philadelphia is apparently letting him walk as a free agent. Mrazek has shown glimpses of greatness in his career with the Flyers and Red Wings, but obviously not enough to have sustained success. If the Islanders get the good part of the streak, they’d be all set.
Cons: The bad part of the streak makes Mrazek no better than any other backup in the league, including Thomas Greiss, who already plays for the Islanders. You could use them as a platoon, but I’m not sure that makes New York a playoff team, so what’s the point?
The Others: Robin Lehner has been jettisoned by Buffalo, putting him in the same boat as Mrazek. There’s also veteran Jonathan Bernier, most recently with Colorado. At this point, I think we’re all pretty confident that he’s a backup and not a starter in the NHL. Other UFA options include Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec, but those aren’t very appetizing if you’re Tavares.