Have The Isles Become Montoya's Team?
It's a sore spot for discussion that has been beaten to a bloody pulp ever since the Islanders signed a young, and relatively unproven goaltener to a 15-year contract that has ultimately handcuffed the organization in more ways than one. It was a decision that every Islanders fan - every hockey fan - shakes their head at and simply asks, "why?"
The Islanders organization was mocked and laughed at, quickly becoming the NHL scapegoat for bad jokes and head shakes. However, since then many teams have signed their own marquee players to extensive contracts that are worth a lot of pretty pennies that go way ahead into the future.
But no other long-term player has had the terrible luck that Rick DiPietro has experienced. Injuries upon injuries have hampered his playing ability as well as his consistency to dress even as a back-up goalie, having spent a lot of time in the press-box. But the organization stands behind their lifetime net-minder and have done everything they could to support him and his desire to resurrect himself to a hockey player that was chosen with a number one pick. There are many ways to look at this situation, but which ever way you slice it, the Islanders organization has shown nothing short of top notch class in regards to not turning their back on Rick. They've drafted him, they've signed him and they have done everything they could to support his rehabilitation.
But for how much longer can this last?
General Manager Garth Snow has prepared for the worst with drafting three top goalie prospects in Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen, all of which who have seen some NHL action in their young careers. But the real story lately has been Al Montoya; a mid-season trade acquisition from last year that has turned out to be a real success story for a goaltender that struggled to find a team that he could call home. But it's still undetermined if the Island is where he will end up staying beyond this season.
There's no doubt in my mind that he wants too. The New York Rangers drafted him with the sixth overall pick in 2004, expecting him to be their man. But then suddenly Henrik Lundqvist ran with New York City on his back and there was no reason to keep another potential number one goalie lurking in his shadow. Off to Phoenix went Montoya, only to find himself behind Ilya Bryzgalov. Once again, Montoya had no place to shine.
But Snow came knocking on his door with an opportunity to be the man between the pipes for the Islanders and Montoya has done nothing but prove himself worthy of being a starting goaltender. Head coach Jack Capuano has taken notice as well. With Evgeni Nabokov out with an injury, Montoya has become this team's rock in net and has started the last three games in a row. He also currently has a 2.24 GAA and a .928 save percentage. He made what I am calling the potential save of the year last night in the team's 5-4 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks which can be seen here.
There really is no reason for Montoya not to start unless it is to give the man a break on back-to-back nights or to prevent DiPietro from getting too cold. But, like I said before, this has always been Rick's team and the Islanders have always made his recovery a top priority. The question becomes "where do the Islanders draw the line between individual success vs. team succes?"
Do not expect a buyout. There are nine years remaining on his contract which is set to expire in 2021. If he were to be bought out, the Islanders would be paying the remainder of his contract until 2030 since his remaining years would be doubled and his annual salary would be cut in half per year under the current CBA. Unless DiPietro one day decides to call it a career because his body can no longer handle the physical requirements of playing his position, he is here to stay. And I don't think the Islanders feel comfortable paying $4.5 million a season for the next nine years to a back-up goaltender.
Al Montoya is the man that should be getting the majority of the games that remain for the rest of the season, especially if the Islanders are looking to pull themselves out of the cellar before the end of the year. He has proven he is the better goaltender. But how long can we expect this fun run to ride out with Rick DiPietro waiting for the call?
Montoya is only signed for this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. There is a lot of focus on when Nabokov will be traded and to whom, but it should be noted that Montoya has trade bait written all over him as well. With all the young talent developing in their farm system and DiPietro inked for almost the next decade, you have to wonder where Montoya fits in the Islanders long-term plans.
He should stay. He can be the goaltender of the immediate future for the Islanders. He has kept this team afloat amongst a bad stretch of losses and is helping this team rebound after a poor start. This is a situation where I will honestly say I don't know what to expect. But I can say that Islanders fans should enjoy his performances in net while they can. We don't know how much longer it might last.