Nabokov as trade bait?

One possible explanation for coach Jack Capuano's surprising decision to start Evgeni Nabokov in goal?

The Islanders could be showcasing the 36-year-old netminder in hopes of trading him.

Capuano's decision was a puzzling one, especially since starter Al Montoya played so well in the team's first three games. The 26-year-old is 2-1-0 with a 1.35 GAA and .953 save percentage.

Nabokov, one of three goaltenders that made the team out of training camp, received little playing time this preseason and was scratched the first two regular-season games. The former Vezina Trophy finalist makes his first start Saturday after a lengthy layoff; he last played in an NHL game in May 2010.

Asked if any teams have inquired about Nabokov, general manager Garth Snow said through a team spokesman that he "doesn't discuss his dealings with other GM's."

Scouts from Vancouver, Carolina, San Jose, Phoenix and Columbus are listed on the Islanders seating chart for Saturday's game.

When the Islanders tolled Nabokov's contract this summer to retain his rights for the 2011-12 season, many assumed they did so with the intent of shopping him to another team in the future.

Montoya won the top job out of training camp and Rick DiPietro spent the first two games backing him up, leaving Nabokov the odd man out. That changed this week when DiPietro was sidelined with a concussion, but Nabokov could still be used as trade bait.

While there is no timeline available for DiPietro, the Islanders would have insurance in goal even if he misses significant time and they were able to move Nabokov.

The team has three goaltenders in Bridgeport, and although they'd ideally like to have 21-year-old Kevin Poulin develop with one more season in the AHL, he proved he was more than capable of playing in the NHL last year. Poulin was 4-2-1 with a 2.44 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 10 games with the Islanders before a freak knee injury ended his season in February.