The New York Islanders trimmed their roster all the way down to 24 before Friday night's 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils at UBS Arena. There were no surprises, with F Arnaud Durandeau and D Robin Salo the most notable players put on waivers. The team's top prospects, William Dufour, Matthew Maggio, and even D Calle Odelius, were sent to Bridgeport for the start of the AHL season.
That leaves two players for the one remaining spot on the 23-man opening night roster. It's the same two that many expected the final decision would come down to from the early days of camp - Ross Johnston and Simon Holmstrom.
Holmstrom has been given ample opportunity to win a spot, playing with Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal throughout training camp and in three pre-season games. As was the case throughout his 50 games last season, there have been flashes of his offensive skillset, but the comfort level, consistency, and confidence just aren't there as often as they need to be.
Holmstrom doesn't need to be put on waivers to be sent to Bridgeport. Meanwhile, Johnston, the one-dimensional forward with a $1.1M cap hit, does. That's a sizeable salary, but the Isles front office has long valued Johnston's presence more so than the fanbase, and if they sense there is a chance he could get claimed, then taking the easier route of moving Holmstrom to the AHL could happen.
“I think it’s important [to keep everyone in the organization],” said head coach Lane Lambert. “But at the same time, you’re going to do what’s right for the hockey club and what’s right for the opening day roster.”
You would think that Holmstrom's versatility gives him the obvious edge. The coaching staff thinks enough of his offensive game to play him with Horvat and Barzal, and last year; he demonstrated his ability to play a responsible two-way game when playing on JG Pageau's line. Since signing his head-scratching four-year extension, Johnston's spot on the roster has regularly been questioned.
Will this be the time the team finally tries to push him through waivers? We'll soon find out.