A move that fell way under the radar during the July 1st free agent frenzy was the New York Islanders acquisition of young goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Isles traded a young player of their own, forward Carter Verhaeghe, to secure the restricted free agent rights to the Latvian keeper. Now, New York has taken the next step toward bringing Gudlevskis in, by coming to terms on a new contract. The team announced a one-year, two-way deal with their new goalie, which is expected to be worth the $650K minimum at the NHL level.
While Gudlevskis has NHL upside, the contract does make sense for both sides. The Islanders still have both Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak under contract for next season and the last thing they want is to have to juggle three goalie like they did in the past with J-F Berube. Gudlevskis is still only 24 as well, and they want him facing shots regularly with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he will likely get the majority of starts over Christopher Gibson, Stephon Williams, or Eamon McAdam.
However, Gudlevskis could have a much greater role than AHL depth as soon as this season. The Islanders have not been shy about the fact that Halak is available in a trade and, should another team lose their starter and be on the lookout for a stopgap, Halak would be a popular choice. This could vault Gudlevskis into the backup role in 2017-18. Even if that doesn’t happen, Halak is in the final year of his deal and will almost surely walk in free agency. Unless the Isles are unhappy with Greiss and are looking to replace him as starter or bring in a “1B”-type backup, Gudlevskis could move into the backup role next year. No one knows exactly when top goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin will cross the Atlantic, so Gudlevskis could be in line for a long-term NHL job. In his three NHL regular season appearances, the young keeper has been phenomenal, posting a .959 save percentage and 1.37 GAA. It’s a small sample size, but Islanders fans hope to see more of the same when Gudlevskis is called upon in the near future.