The New York Islanders have a fantasy-relevant starting goalie. Let that sink in.
After trading for the rights of pending unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak on May 1, the Islanders locked up their new goalie Thursday with a four-year contract. For a team that hasn't had much stability at the position or success on the free-agent front in recent years, the signing is a major step in the right direction.
Halak, a productive fantasy goalie behind a stingy defense during his tenure with the St. Louis Blues, is one of four goalies with a 2.15 goals-against average and .920 save percentage or better over the past three regular seasons combined (minimum 100 outings). Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist are the others.
He has never hit the 30-win mark in his NHL career, largely because of injuries and the goalie competition between him and Brian Elliott, but will have an opportunity to finally do so with the Islanders if he stays healthy. The closest he came to 30 wins was this past season, when he won 24 in 40 games with the Blues and five in 12 (2.31 GAA, .930 SV%) with the Washington Capitals. He was traded from St. Louis to the Buffalo Sabres in the Ryan Miller deal on Feb. 28 and shipped to Washington on March 5.
The Islanders have finished 21st or worse League-wide in team goals allowed per game in each of the past seven seasons. But in 2012-13 (48-game season), the Isles rode veteran Evgeni Nabokov to the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite pedestrian goals-against average (2.50) and save percentage (.910) totals.
Rick DiPietro was the last goalie anywhere near Halak's caliber to play for the Islanders. But after injuries and struggles derailed DiPietro's career, New York used one of its compliance buyouts on his massive contract last summer.
In 2013-14, Nabokov, 38, battled injury yet finished 15-14-8. The Islanders were competitive for the most part when he was in net despite a suspect defense corps. Mark Streit signed with the Philadelphia Flyers last summer. Lubomir Visnovsky (24 games played) and Travis Hamonic (69) missed time due to injuries and Andrew MacDonald was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
Kevin Poulin (28 games) and Anders Nilsson (19) each saw their share of playing time in 2013-14 but failed to seize the opportunity. Each had a goals-against average over 3.00 and a sub-.900 save percentage. If things are going to change on Long Island, those numbers are not going to cut it.
With little depth on defense and in net compared to other teams around the League, as well as the impact of John Tavares' injury at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it's not a surprise the Islanders finished among the League's bottom five. There have been many reasons why New York has finished that low in the standings in recent years, but the lack of a reliable franchise goaltender has topped the list.
It's up for debate whether Halak will remain a top-15 fantasy goalie in the coming years, but there's no question he's a significant upgrade to his new team and should be targeted in the 15-20 range come fantasy draft day.
He isn't worthy of being drafted over top-tier workhorses or even top 10-to-15 goalies (i.e. Schneider, John Gibson, Elliott, etc.) on paper, but the goalie landscape traditionally thins out in the 15-to-20 range.
That's where Halak actually could prove to be worth your while if he falls that far. Halak's value will not be as high entering the 2014-15 season as it was entering any individual season he spent in St. Louis, but he will have every opportunity to start 60-plus games for the Islanders. If healthy, he could finally win 30-plus games and will almost certainly produce much better totals than any Islanders goalie has in quite some time.
Halak's potential with the Islanders will be reevaluated as the offseason progresses. For a player who has missed time himself due to injury in recent seasons, it's important for the Islanders to not only address their thin defense but also secure an adequate NHL-level backup goalie to keep Halak's workload manageable.
But, regardless of how the Islanders attack their offseason agenda, this signing is a win-win situation for New York and gives this 29-year-old goalie the opportunity to stay productive on the fantasy map in his prime.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
Islanders team goals allowed/game
2013-14: 3.18 (28th)
2012-13: 2.83 (21st)
2011-12: 3.06 (27th)
2010-11: 3.15 (27th)
2009-10: 3.15 (28th)
2008-09: 3.34 (28th)
2007-08: 2.93 (23rd)
2006-07: 2.87 (12th)
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