Islanders sign forwards Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski
The Islanders waited until Day 2 of free agency to make their splash. It was a double cannonball.
After missing out on some top targets on Tuesday, GM Garth Snow landed two quality forwards at once Wednesday afternoon, signing former Leafs wing Nikolai Kulemin to a four-year, $16.75-million deal and center Mikhail Grabovski, late of the Capitals, to a four-year, $20-million deal.
"To me, free agency is like fishing," Snow said. "You put your line in the water and you hope you get some nibbles. We got two big bites today."
Grabovski, 30, had 13 goals and 22 assists in 58 games for Washington last season after being bought out of a five-year, $27.5-million deal by the Leafs after just one season on that contract.
He's a dependable No. 2 center and gives the Islanders flexibility down the middle with both Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, who are natural centers but have played wing as well.
Kulemin, who turns 29 on July 14, spent his entire six-year NHL career with the Leafs. He had nine goals and 11 assists in 70 games last season, but scored 30 goals in 2010-11.
Snow said he'd been talking with Gary Greenstin, agent for both players, since free agency began at noon on Tuesday. After the opening day, when the Isles struck out on contract offers to Thomas Vanek, Dan Boyle, Jarome Iginla and Brad Richards, things looked a little bleak for them.
But reuniting a tandem that produced decently well for the Leafs adds to an Islanders team that came up short in depth scoring last season.
The Isles now have 16 forwards on NHL contracts, which means a trade would seem likely. Snow had been looking for a top-pair or second-pair defenseman in free agency or a trade and that would likely still be a targeted spot to move a couple of forwards out of the logjam.
The pressure would seem to be on Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey, who both went long stretches without a goal last season and were each healthy scratches. Bailey still has four years at a $3.5 million average annual value on his deal, which would make a trade difficult; Grabner has two seasons at a $3 million AAV, which could make him more attractive to another team.
"It's not easy to find a top-4 defenseman. Teams don't really give those guys up," Snow said. "If there's a way to improve our club, we'll always work like hell to do it. Right now we have a lot of competition and players know now they have to perform or they won't be in this lineup."
Both Grabovski and Kulemin played under new Islanders assistant coach Greg Cronin in Toronto and Snow got what he called "glowing" reports from Cronin on both new additions.
Grabovski had good possession numbers for the Caps last season, the only forward on the team with a positive Corsi rating. Kulemin did not have great advanced stats for the Leafs the past two seasons but he was seeing fewer and fewer offensive-zone opportunities after teaming with Grabovski in prior years.