MIDDLETOWN, N. J. - It’s the time of the year when everyone seems to be in play and teams are assessing their needs as well as their weaknesses. That time when teams in the playoff bubble have to determine how close they really are, while contenders are gearing up looking to find that missing piece. The last part of the trade deadline decision comes from teams that are clearly rebuilding and looking to send higher priced players on their way for cheaper, younger alternatives to restock their farm system.
The New York Islanders organization is no different than any other in the entire league. They too sit back on Easter Sunday and try to determine their realistic chances at grabbing a playoff spot in the hotly contested Eastern Conference. Is this the year to make that run? Do we sit back and wait for the summer, retool and brainstorm and attempt to come out stronger in October of 2013? Those are the questions that fans love to mull over in the week leading up to crazy day 2013. But, at the end of the day, we don’t get paid to make those kinds of decisions.
Charles Wang and Garth Snow will be meeting with the upper levels of the Islanders scouting staff and deciding the ultimate path for this hockey club with all factors being considered. We all know the Isles are in great shape regarding the salary cap, even with it dropping next season from it’s current 70 million dollars to 64.3 million. The team only has 33.6 million committed for 2013-14 with 13 players signed, leaving them with approximately 11 contracts to sign and almost 31 million to do it.
The Free Agents
Marty Reasoner – UFA – Almost certainly will not be back with the club
Josh Bailey – RFA – Will be resigned. His current deal is 1,050,000 – My guess is he settles around 2,250,000
Brad Boyes – UFA – On a one year prove it deal, Brad has been a good fit this season and the club likes him. Resigned at 2,000,000
David Ullstrom – RFA – Has sat in coach Jack Capuano‘s dog house at times this season. Guess is they keep him at a modest 1,000,000
Keith Aucoin – UFA – Nice lower level winger who has given us some nice moments this year. 2 way deal at 750,000
Jesse Joensuu – RFA – With restricted status there really is nowhere for JJ to go. Injuries have hampered him this year. 2 way deal at 650,000
Eric Boulton – UFA – Another candidate to not return
Travis Hamonic – RFA – Will absolutely return, the guess here is longer term (5 yrs perhaps) at 2,500,000
Radek Martinek – UFA – Highly doubt that Martinek gets a third tour of duty with the club at this point with all the D prospects in the system
Thomas Hickey – UFA – Has been a pleasant surprise and should be retained. 2 yrs at 850,000
My numbers above, and I am no math major, put the Islanders at 20 contracts and only 44.6 million spent, leaving them still a little under 20 million in cap space and 4 contracts to go. But some major decisions loom and I have saved those for last.
The X Factors
Goaltending – There are no starting goaltenders currently on the NHL roster signed for next season. That’s right, none. Tim Thomas is an unrestricted free agent and we all know how that story played out. The feeling is there is a 867% chance he is not a signed Islander for next season. Kevin Poulin is a restricted free agent and will get a contract extension with the guess being at 1,000,000. Currently, the Islanders are discussing a contract extension with current starter, Evgeni Nabakov, and at age 37 in addition to the resigning of defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, this writer expects to see a 2 year extension at 3,500,000 per season. That brings us up to 49 million and 22 contracts.
Hmm….who could I have forgotten? Oh yeah, current team captain Mark Streit. Streit has been an admirable solider for this club since arriving as a free agent back in July of 2008. He missed the entire 2010-11 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder and worked hard to get back into form. Some say he never did regain it but I say otherwise. He constantly plays 25-26 minutes a night on a minus team and works very hard. Has he lost a step? Of course, with age that has to happen eventually. The Islanders are heavily engaged in extension talks with his agent but at the same time have sent feelers out regarding moving him also. If the return is worth while by Wednesday, he could very well be moved. Currently making a modest, by today’s standards, 4,100,000 the feeling here is an extension would be worth between 4.5 and 5 million dollars.
What Will Snow Find When He Shops the Market?
What all the above does is, in my opinion, put the Islanders too close to the 64.3 million salary cap for Charles Wang’s liking. It has been Charles and the organizational philosophy over the last couple of seasons to restock Bridgeport, keep the big club competitive and keep costs down. If you had an investment that was losing a reported 20 million dollars a season, you would be apt to follow the same business model. Until a steady revenue stream comes into play, and that will happen with the arrival at Barclays Center in 2015, do not expect that to change in the least. Using that assumption means that there could be others, in addition to possibly the captain, on the move.
The trade market in relation to what the Islanders could fetch in return right now is a rental market. Players that are going to move will be ones that want a chance to win a Stanley Cup. While the Islanders are clearly improving and on their way to being a very good team, they are not there just yet. Jarome Iginla is the perfect comparison: Would he have accepted a deal to the Isles under the same conditions as he did to Pittsburgh? Of course not. And I don’t think anyone can blame him. At 35 he would like one last shot at hoisting sports most prized trophy.
Might Not Want to Buy That House Just Yet
Kyle Okposo – Has shown to have tremendous talent and work ethic. As one of the assistant captains, he was always thought to be part of the rebuild. However he has not fully blossomed into the 25 goal power winger that the organization viewed when he was drafted. At the present moment, I believe his value is depressed to the point where any return would not be beneficial to the team and think they give him another season to mature into a leadership role that can provide secondary scoring at a consistent basis.
Michael Grabner – Grabner burst onto the scene as a rookie after Garth Snow picked him up off the waiver wire from the Florida Panthers. He scored 34 goals in 76 games in electrifying fashion, using blinding speed to create tons of opportunities for himself. After slumping to 20 goals last year he has been gripping his stick tighter and tighter, still flying around the ice, but struggling to bury the puck in the back of the net consistently. We saw this in full display yesterday when his failed breakaway attempt in Pittsburgh could have given the team a much needed boost. Could bring the Islanders the most return in any potential deal.
Frans Nielsen – We all, as Islander fans, know what Frans brings to the table. An outstanding defensive centerman, he is also adept at faceoffs (although struggling a bit this season). He often plays against the top offensive unit of the opposing team. This is an area, however, where the Islanders are extremely deep. Ryan Strome is expected to debut next season after a full training camp and immediately slide into the #2 center role behind John Tavares. Casey Cizikas has been an outstanding surprise this year and has a full time role locked in. You can safely assume that Casey is,without a doubt, 3rd line center material. There are alot of teams getting ready for the playoffs that could use a player like Frans for the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
This morning, Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald, a Chicago based publication, reported that the Islanders and Blackhawks have been in serious trade discussions over the past couple of days. The deal was said to originally involved Visnovsky, but after his resigning, the Hawks attention turned to Streit and Neilsen. The reported return for the Isles would be a package of Jeremy Morin, a 6’1 American winger who has played to Rockford in the American Hockey League this season, just earning a callup to the big club yesterday and defenseman Dylan Olsen, a 6’2 ,22 year old who has also played for Rockford.
Are the Islanders good enough to make the playoffs as currently constructed? Of course we are. The above trade, if it was to happen, I do not think improves those chances. It just continues the business model the Islanders have been following. Attempt to retain your own, keep the farm system stocked and receive assets for pieces that you cannot resign instead of losing them with no return. Silly season has definitely begun and it will be interesting to see what happens come Wednesday.
Have a great day everyone and thanks for reading.
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