The Islanders have not locked up Evgeni Nabokov to return as at least one of their goaltenders for next season, despite both sides being relatively close on a contract.
There may be younger, more attractive goaltending options available when free agency begins on July 5, but perhaps the most intriguing goaltender available will be sought after around the day of the June 30 NHL draft.
And the Islanders are in the mix for Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier, according to several sources.
Bernier, 24, is a restricted free agent who is sure to be dealt by the time the NHL wraps up its one-day draft in Newark next weekend, with Kings GM Dean Lombardi needing to sign a slew of restricted free agents and get some return for his backup goaltender.
The Kings are only seeking prospects or young players in return, not looking for current costly regulars.
It is believed that Islanders GM Garth Snow has had preliminary conversations with Lombardi. The Kings GM called around the league to gauge the market for Bernier last week, according to TSN's Pierre Lebrun.
In 14 games as a backup to Jonathan Quick, Bernier was 9-3-1 and had a 1.87 goals-against average.
But there are only a handful of teams who have a glaring need for a step-right-in starter, and the Islanders are obviously one. Count the Panthers, Leafs and Flyers in too, and perhaps the Wild and Coyotes.
The Flames and Oilers have glaring needs in goal, but would Lombardi deal such a promising asset within his new division? That seems unlikely, given what he could get elsewhere.
The Flyers might have the most attractive centerpiece for a deal in young center Sean Couturier, but the Flyers also have the most complicated situation. Even buying out Ilya Bryzgalov to make a deal for Bernier leaves them in a precarious spot for next season and beyond -- adding Mark Streit on a proposed four-year, $21 million deal, as reported on Monday, hasn’t changed the fact that the Flyers are aging and expensive in a lot of spots.
If there is an opportunity to get into a bidding war, Snow may be disinclined to go much above an offer of Nino Niederreiter for Bernier. The disgruntled Niederreiter is likely Snow’s top trade chip, but would he throw in the No. 15 pick in next Sunday’s draft? That may be what it takes to get into serious talks.
Beyond Bernier, who signed up with CAA’s Pat Brisson on Monday -- same agent as John Tavares, if that’s worth anything -- the free-agent goaltending market is likely too rich for Snow.
He would seem to prefer one more year of Nabokov at roughly $3 million and either Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson than a long-term bet on Niklas Backstrom, who is only three years younger than Nabokov, or riskier goaltenders such as Mike Smith or Ray Emery.
The Islanders are in the hunt for Bernier, though. So their goaltending picture will become much clearer by the time the draft floor empties out next weekend.