What Will the Islanders do With Jaroslav Halak?

The Islanders and their fans know how important this offseason is for the team. No one knows this more than GM Garth Snow. Snow has a tall order on his plate heading into this weekends NHL Draft and into free agency in two weeks.

He needs to fix the offensive holes on the Islanders roster, find at least one top-line winger for John Tavares and do it while having bad contracts on the roster. Some will argue one of those bad contracts belongs to Halak, which has made him the target of ire among Islanders fans this offseason.

It has already been covered the fact that Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin are almost assuredly gone come July 1, with the chance that Frans Nielsen could be retained. The Islanders handed a new contract extension to Casey Cizikas and still have restricted free agents Ryan Strome, Shane Prince and goalie JF Berube to get under contract. Assuming he is able to get all under contract for similar cap hits, Snow should go into free agency armed with about $12-13 million in cap space.

Even before the offseason really began Snow lost his biggest bargaining chip on the trade market when Travis Hamonic rescinded his trade request from earlier this season. With the likes of Stamkos, Eriksson, Laad, Backes, et al on the free agent market this summer the Islanders have room to be competitive, but only to a point. The Islanders have two things going for them right now: solid depth on defense and stability in goal (Halak included.)

Goaltending Conundrum

This season saw the Islanders start with Halak’s name written in sharpie as the number one goalie, only to have Thomas Greiss finish the season there with Halak on the IR. The knock on Halak for a long time had been that he had issues staying healthy, and this year it showed. But as the year went on, having three goalies on the roster was a disservice to all three, and sentiment that Halak echoed during his team exit interviews with the media.

We all know what Halak did in his first year with the Isles, setting the franchise record for wins by a goaltender in a single-season with 38. Halak was, like Thomas Greiss this year, one of the primary reasons the Islanders made it as far in the playoffs as they did. You can make he argument had Halak not been in net last postseason the Islanders do not make it to Game 7 against Washington. Halak followed that up by posting only 36 starts this past season, almost a dead split with Greiss’ 38 starts in 41 appearances.

Halak’s season was cut short with a groin injury in a game against the Penguins in early March, and after the season it was announced he needed sports hernia surgery. He will be ready to play come training camp and the World Cup of Hockey this fall.

When you look at his numbers, Halak has been a good, and at times very good, starting goalie in his time with the Islanders. Among the 30 goalies who have started a minimum of 80 games since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Halak ranks 14th in wins with 56 in his 95 starts. The 95 starts are 20th on the list of qualifying goalies. His .916 SV% ranks in a tie for 18th with new Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and Sharks playoff hero Martin Jones, and his 2.38 GAA is good for 15th and ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard.

When you expand the numbers out even more, factoring in the Islanders terrible penalty kill his first season, he has a .921 even strength SV% and has allowed only 177 goals against, good for 11th on this list. Despite his limited play this season Halak was out-playing his career averages and actually finished with a slightly better GAA this regular season than Greiss (2.3 to Greiss’ 2.36.)

The problems plaguing the Islanders moving Halak are threefold: his contract, injury history and the market. At 31 he can still be effective as a number 1 goalie but someone needs to be willing to take his $4.5 million AAV for two more years, hoping he does not get hurt for a long period of time.

Crowded Marketplace

The real hindrance is the market. You can count on one hand the number of teams that need a number one goalie at the moment. Both Carolina and Toronto are now off that list. Calgary is still in the market. Arizona, Buffalo and Vancouver could be possibilities.

The Penguins are reportedly shopping Marc-Andre Fleury, but the price tag is rumored to be too high. The Lightning could be doing the same with Ben Bishop. James Reimer and a rejuvenated Chad Johnson are UFAs in two weeks. The Blues, Stars, Senators and Red Wings all have two goalie situations they would like to free up as well. Even if Snow was to take below market value for Halak, is there a market?

Short of buying Halak out, which would cost the Islanders a cap hit over the next four years with an AAV of $1.625 million, the only seemingly logical thing is pointing to the Islanders hanging on to the veteran netminder. That is not an ideal option for the Islanders. Halak can still be a very good goalie for the Islanders, pending him staying healthy.

Some fans may not want to hear this, but should Halak be here come training camp expect him to be penciled in as the starter. He has earned the chance to start again considering the season he had his first year with the team, the solid numbers his put up in limited time this year, his contract status and especially if he is healthy and plays well in the WCH. With him and Greiss the Islanders have a legitimate goalie tandem that has the potential to be one of the top-10 in the league.

Only time will tell what Snow is able to do this offseason. Right now it appears that Halak and his $4.5 million AAV cap hit will be back with the team. This makes the Islanders goalie situation for next year anything but fluid as the team still need to figure out what they see in Berube and where he fits in the goalie roation, and which one of these three they intend to protect come expansion draft time next year. Greiss has one year left on his contract so really the expansion decision would be between Halak and Berube, if both were still here. The Islanders have a lot of work to do in the coming months.