NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Desperate to upgrade in net, the Islanders attempted a low-risk, high-reward move on Thursday, acquiring from the Washington Capitals the rights to impending unrestricted free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
New York shipped a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to Washington for Halak, an eight-year NHL veteran who will turn 29 on May 13. The Islanders previously acquired the fourth-round pick in a trade with Chicago on Feb. 6 in exchange for forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin.
“(Halak is) a guy we think highly of and (we will) give our best effort to get him signed. We’re trying to address a need,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said Thursday evening.
The Islanders’ problems in goal have been well-documented. Veteran Evgeni Nabokov was re-signed at the start of free agency last summer after Snow failed to come to an agreement with other targets. Nabokov, who will soon turn 39, played well in stretches for the Islanders this past season, but also missed a lot of games due to lower-body injuries.
When without Nabokov, the Islanders were forced to play a pair of rookies, Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, but they both struggled as part of a defense that was among the worst in the NHL in goals allowed. It is believed that neither Poulin nor Nilsson will be part of the Islanders’ plans in 2014-15, the final season the team will play at Nassau Coliseum before moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It is believed Nabokov could return as the team’s backup if Halak, or any other No. 1 goalie, is acquired.
“Right now we have zero goalies signed. It’s probably not wise to go into a season with one goalie,” Snow said, intimating that two will be signed regardless.
But will one of them be Halak? He went 29-13-7 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 52 games for the St. Louis Blues and Capitals last season. He was acquired by Washington prior to the trade deadline.
For his career, Halak is 144-85-29 with a 2.38 GAA, a .918 save percentage and 30 shutouts. He has appeared in 23 playoff games with Montreal and St. Louis, going 10-11 with a 2.42 GAA and a .942 save percentage.
Halak, who was drafted in the ninth round — 271st overall — by Montreal back in 2003, led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 and won the Jennings Trophy in 2011-12 after backstopping St. Louis to the fewest goals allowed in the league.
Halak has also represented Slovakia at two Winter Olympic Games, three World Championships and two Junior World Championships.
It’s no secret the Isles have had problems getting top talent to come to Long Island via free agency for several years, which may explain why Snow decided to give himself an exclusive, two-month head start on Halak before the veteran goalie potentially hits the open market on July 1.
The Islanders tried a similar approach with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff prior to the 2011-12 season, acquiring his rights from the Vancouver Canucks. Ehrhoff chose not to sign with the Islanders and was eventually shipped to the Buffalo Sabres, with whom he later signed a long-term contract.
Islanders fans are understandably skeptical of a similar scenario playing out with Halak, or any other impending free agent they might try to trade for or eventually attempt to sign. However, early indications are Halak seems interested in signing with the Islanders:
The Islanders are expected to be aggressive this offseason to make up for a 2013-14 season that fell far short of most everyone’s expectations. New York was coming off its first playoff appearance in six seasons, but Snow struggled to improve the roster last summer. The Isles were then saddled with a lot of inexperienced players on the ice due to injuries to star center John Tavares, forwards Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and goaltender Nabokov, among others.
New York finished 34-37-11 and in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
Compounding the recent tumult on the ice is the fact that owner Charles Wang is reportedly listening to offers to sell the team, which has struggled to make money on Long Island for years.
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