Since the final horn sounded on the Islander season in Round Two against Tampa, fans have started to wonder what would happen over the off season. There are a lot of reasons this year is different than others, which only adds to the intrigue. First and foremost, the Islanders new ownership group takes over control of the team from Charles Wang on July 1.
Secondly, the Isles have a couple of key forwards who become unrestricted free agents on that day as well.
Thirdly, every team in the league will go into this season expecting that they will have to deal with an expansion draft after the season. Roster moves this summer, and at the trade deadline next year, will be made with that draft in mind, especially given the small number of players teams will be able to protect, and the fact that they will have to honor no movement clauses in choosing who to protect.
On the first point, I don’t think anyone knows what direction new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin will want to take. It’s entirely possible they will want to bring in a whole new GM/Coaching team, and it’s just as likely they will give Garth Snow and Jack Capuano another year to see if they have what it takes to get the team not just in the playoffs, but to the point of being serious Stanley Cup contenders. The one thing I think is likely, is that the team will not suddenly be a team that spends to the cap. They’ve been a budget team for years, and while the move to Brooklyn and the on-ice success maybe moves the budget a bit, I don’t think we’re going to see the Isles spend to the cap.
This, of course, complicates the free agency question. Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin will all be UFAs. Someone, somewhere in the league is going to offer Okposo something like 5 years at $6 million per, possibly even more than that. Do the Islanders try to match that, or let him walk? Bear in mind that is more money than John Tavares currently makes, and paying Okposo that throws the Isles pay scale out of whack to some extent.
Frankly, signing all three of them puts the Islanders pretty close to the current cap, for the same team that was on the ice this season. I can’t imagine that is going to be the plan again. Especially when there are other UFAs who’s roster spots will need to be replaced as well. (Zidlicky, Strait, Boulton, Bernier)
The financials are also complicated by RFA’s who need new contracts: Strome, Cizikas, Mayfield, Berube, Prince and Quine.
As it turns out, the Isles cap situation, and salary negotiations with free agents, may come down to two players who didn’t even make an appearance in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak and Mikhail Grabovski. With the way Thomas Greiss played to close out the year, and promising youngster Jean-Francois Berube, a pending RFA, on the NHL roster the Isles really had one goalie too many during the first half of the season. The Isles may try to dump Halak in a trade, freeing up a bunch of salary, and allowing the Isles to not expose Berube to waivers by trying to get him to Bridgeport for playing time.
As for Grabovski, he brings something to the table when he’s healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy the last two years. Short of his health coming back, the Islanders may be hoping Grabo goes ahead and retires. He’s got two years and $11 million left on his contract, so if he thinks he can play again, he may be back, but there is definitely a question about whether he can still play.
If both of those things happen, the Islanders may look quite different next year. Suddenly, they can match offers for Nielsen and Okposo if they so choose, and possibly add another key free agent.
In the end, my prediction, based on no inside information at all, but what I expect as an Isles fan, is that they resign Martin, and one of Nielsen and Okposo.
Grabovski does retire, or gets bought out.
Halak gets traded, but for less than many Isles fans are hoping. Possibly to get the Islanders into the second or third round of the draft. (The Islanders do not have 2-3 round picks this year.) Possibly there’s a depth player sent back as well. The bottom line here is that there is going to be a glut of goaltenders available in trades this season, as teams look to dump older goaltenders to try and protect young prospects at the end of the season. (Think Marc-Andre Fleury, for example) Plus, Halak is coming off an injury, and expensive. The Isles might actually get more value by trading Greiss at this point, but I can’t see Snow counting on Halak being healthy or Berube as the options for 2016-17.
It’s also possible that Berube will be the Isles starting goalie shortly too. if you’re an expansion team, Thomas Greiss looks mighty tempting, unless the Isles get him signed to an extension and make it more expensive for the supposed Vegas team to pick him up. He’s playing for that contract next year.
The Islanders sign a free agent winger, and Isles fans decide it’s too much money for a borderline player, which is pretty much what free agency looks like this year. They probably do the same for a depth defender, and Isles fans will rejoice if it doesn’t involve Brian Strait coming back. 😉
I’d also expect some young guys to start the season in Brooklyn in the place of some of those UFAs listed above. Specifically, I expect to see Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Alan Quine and perhaps Michael Dal Colle in Brooklyn on opening night.
And, like this year, the Islanders will be depending on those young forwards to take a step up and play their way onto the first line. It didn’t happen this year, will it happen next year? If it doesn’t it may be the end of the line for the Garth Snow plan.
I describe the Isles forwards this way. They have the best 4th line in hockey. They have john Tavares, one of the best centers in hockey, Kyle Okposo, a decent top six scorer, and they have about 7 guys who are decent, but should be playing on a third line somewhere. Something is going to have to change in that group, especially if Okposo leaves.
Of course, this is Garth Snow we’re talking about, and a weird year because of possible expansion, so it’s entirely possible that the Isles trade away a couple of those young guys for a proven first line player, and let Okposo and Nielsen walk away too. We’ll see it all play out in the coming months, and it’s going to be interesting.
What do you predict?