Islanders Missed the Boat on Bernier

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After spending years stockpiling talent both up front and on the blueline, the Islanders’ biggest need this off-season is an answer to the goalie question. Any arguments?

Moving on, then.

It was a one-man show between the pipes for the Islanders in 2013, as head coach Jack Capuano put the team on Evgeni Nabokov’s 37-year-old shoulders. “Nabby” didn’t disappoint in the regular season; his 23 were one shy of the league lead.

But the Nabokov formula for success over 48-games didn’t carry over to the playoffs, won’t cut it in an 82-game season and certainly isn’t the long-term answer in net. Neither is Kevin Poulin, the 23-year-old who Patrick Roy once called the best goaltender in Canadian Junior Hockey, but has yet to prove his worth in Bridgeport or in limited action with the big club.

Bringing in former Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier, 24, would have at least offered the Islanders a sense of direction and, at best, could have provided the biggest piece of the puzzle since the 2009 selection of John Tavares, a goalie to build around for years to come. Instead, general manager Garth Snow sat idly, while Toronto acquired Bernier at a shockingly reasonable price.

Many hockey enthusiasts, this writer included, have praised Snow for his patience and dedication to the rebuild. But with success to build on and a buyer’s market created by a reduced salary cap, it’s time for Snow to roll the dice in hopes of bringing in players to turn the Islanders’ collection of stockpiled assets into a serious contender. Without giving up much, as Toronto showed, the Islanders could have added a goalie with serious potential to make an impact at the NHL level. The Kings would have had to consider any package built around Nino Niederreiter, who has reportedly asked to be traded, or any of several other top prospects.

As outstanding as Bernier has looked in limited NHL action, there’s certainly no way of knowing whether or not he has what it takes to be the franchise goaltender. That said, he would have had a far better chance of filling that role than anyone the Islanders have under contract. If the Islanders opted to bring back Nabokov, the two could have split time with Nabokov serving as a veteran mentor to his younger half.

Missing out on Bernier isn’t the end of the world by any means, but hopefully isn’t a sign of things to come from Islanders management. For a team that has been lacking a true build-your-team-around goaltender since Rick DiPietro’s body turned to glass, it’s time to stop sitting around and start kicking the tires when top-tier talent becomes available. There’s a solid group of free agent goalies out there for the taking.

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