NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They needed to lure a big-time free agent to restore some legitimacy to Long Island as a destination.
The Islanders did that Thursday, agreeing to terms with goaltender Jaroslav Halak on a four-year, $18 million contract.
“I think this is a perfect fit. They have good young guys who will only get better,” Halak told Newsday.
It’s no secret the Islanders have had trouble between the pipes for a very long time. While veteran Evgeni Nabokov has had his moments over the last few seasons it became evident during the 2013 playoffs that his age was starting to catch up with him.
Nabokov, who will soon turn 39, was brutal during a six-game opening-round loss to Pittsburgh, and many figured the Islanders would upgrade the position during the offseason. However, general manager Garth Snow had trouble attracting a top goalie and ended up re-signing Nabokov shortly after free agency started last July.
Nabokov struggled with injuries during the 2013-14 season and his replacements, rookies Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, showed they were not up to the task of elevating what was a very porous Islanders defense.
The Islanders traded a fourth round pick to Washington for Halak’s rights back on May 1, giving them a two-month window to get a deal done before the 29-year-old netminder could file for unrestricted free agency.
Halak 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.
The move could be an indicator of big things to come for a franchise that has struggled for years to attract top veteran talent. Upon trading for Halak’s rights, Snow said the Islanders would be looking to sign two goalies this offseason. It makes sense that if Nabokov is willing to come back for far less than the $3.25 million he made this past season, he’d be a prime candidate to be Halak’s backup.
The Islanders also need to address their defense corps and find a wing to play alongside star John Tavares. Thursday’s move seems to indicate they will be aggressive this summer in the hope of erasing their 34-37-11 regular season and get back to the playoffs.
The club also announced Thursday that it will send its first round pick in the 2015 draft to Buffalo to complete the October trade for Thomas Vanek. The Isles will retain their 2014 first rounder, which is No. 5 overall.
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