Islanders Need to Solidify Goaltending with Antti Niemi

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09: Scott Hartnell  of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period against Antti Niemi  of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

Lyle Richardson is asking if the Islanders need another goaltender.

Right now, the plan seems to be going with Dwayne Roloson, who’ll be 41 when the season starts, and Rick DiPietro, who has played just 13 games over the last two seasons.

I’m not sure what the thought process is for the Islanders.

Roloson was strong last season, starting 49 games and finishing with a .907 save percentage. But as Roloson gets older, the likelihood of his ability to repeat that kind of performance diminishes. It seems mighty risky trusting a position as important as goaltending to someone that old.

And if the thought is this is the season DiPietro gets fully healthy, that also seems like a bit of a high-risk proposition. As talented as DiPietro is, and I truly believe a 100% healthy DiPietro could be an elite NHL goaltender, he seems too prone to injury to be a viable starting option.

The Islanders started last season with Roloson and Marty Biron, and the tandem worked out well for them. Rather than having one solid goalie, GM Garth Snow went with two journeymen. Roloson eventually emerged as the starter, but Biron proved to be a solid-enough second option.

Now, with Roloson a year older, the Islanders are hoping lightning strikes twice, which is never a good thing to hope for.

Even if Roloson has another year of solid goaltending in him, he can’t start 82 games. The Islanders’ offensive system doesn’t do much to protect goalies from rushes, so goaltending is an especially important position. The Islanders simply can’t afford to have an unproven entity in goal for 30 to 40 games.

The Islanders have been linked to Antti Niemi, last seen hoisting the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks, but apparently aren’t interested.

I’m not sure what kind of contract duration Niemi wants, but we know his salary demand is in the $2.75 million per year range — that’s what he was awarded in arbitration before the Blackhawks walked away from the ruling (earlier this month Anthony SanFilippo reported Niemi was getting offers beyond his arbitration award, but if that were the case, I assume he would have signed somewhere by now).

It’s a lot of money to spend on a goalie who might have put together a pretty hot streak last season, but who’s also unproven over the long haul.

But the Islanders have over $19 million in cap space for next season.

As near as I can tell, the cap floor is $43.4 million and the team has just under $40 million in salary, so why not spend some money on goaltending? Why not have some insurance in an important position? Especially since the money doesn’t seem to be earmarked for anything else.

If you have to spend money to meet the floor, why not take on goaltending? If we learned nothing else during this year’s playoffs, it’s that teams really can’t have enough goaltending options, because you never know who’s going to get hot.

I’m not sure Niemi can play himself past Roloson. But he was once a backup and he can probably return to being one. Is it awkward to have a backup making more than a starter? Perhaps. But it’s probably worse to write-off 30 some-odd games because you’re hoping this is finally the year your supposed franchise goalie is healthy enough to be the franchise goalie.

The Islanders have ambiguity in goal plus plenty of cap space. They can afford to take a risk on Niemi. They can’t afford to take a risk on the Roloson/DiPietro tandem.