A few notes after a busy week for the Islanders:
It would appear that GM Garth Snow is done shopping on the free-agent market for this offseason. With the veteran trio of Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin departing and a (slightly more) veteran trio of Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and PA Parenteau arriving, the Isles are within $5 million of the $73-million salary cap, with contracts for Ryan Strome, Alan Quine and Scott Mayfield, three likely/potential roster players still to go.
That means there’s no room, financially or roster-wise, for another forward right now. You could certainly see a depth defenseman brought in later in the summer, as Snow has often done during his tenure -- Radek Martinek still lives on Long Island but I think he’s officially retired, in case you were wondering.
But aside from that, the Isles would need to move a contract or two out in a trade if there are more changes coming. They do not have any players who filed for arbitration so there will be no second window for buyouts next month.
There also is the possibility of Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle or Josh Ho-Sang earning a spot in training camp. Dal Colle and Ho-Sang would need to knock some socks off in a big way to keep a roster spot in October, given both can now go to Bridgeport and be called up without waivers.
Barzal is still 19 and would have to go back to Seattle of the Western League if he doesn’t make it. He certainly looked ready last camp, and if he’s even more ready this year, that could make for some uncomfortable moments for a well-paid veteran.
As far as those veteran forwards go, it would seem Mikhail Grabovski has the most uncertain Isles future. Concussions have derailed both of his seasons with the Islanders. He has to come to camp healthy and try immediately to find his highest level or else he likely will be a very expensive scratch or in the AHL.
Nikolay Kulemin and Josh Bailey also could have some worries. Both do kill penalties and occasionally play power play, but Ladd and Chimera also have done extensive PK work and Parenteau/Ladd will almost definitely be on the top power-play unit.
You’ll hear loads about “healthy competition” when camp rolls around. With this forward group, looks like the coaches will mean it.
On Frans Nielsen
I didn’t have a chance to include every last bit of what Nielsen and I talked about on Friday, though he also had lots of comments elsewhere about simply wanting a new challenge and “new coaches.”
I asked whether he felt things had grown stale on the Island, not just for him but for others who have worked for Snow and played for Jack Capuano and his assistants.
“Snowy gave me an opportunity to play when I was younger, he gave me a one-way deal when he didn’t have to,” Nielsen said. “Cappy is basically the only coach I’ve had, I played with Dougie [Weight] for a few years. I respect all those guys and I owe them all a lot. I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it wasn’t for them.
“I don’t know if we started talking contract too late. . . . When the season ended, it’s only two months until free agency so I started to think about what might be out there. But [wanting to just leave] wasn’t the thought at all. It’s a great team, even without us three guys. And you can see they don’t have any trouble bringing new guys in.”
What’s a bit funny to see are the many pundits and list-makers lauding the Sabres and Wings for bringing in Okposo and Nielsen while downgrading the Islanders for losing both.
Had the Isles signed Okposo and Nielsen to those deals (and Martin as well), there would have been exactly zero new faces on the Island this coming season. Total status quo with nearly $14 million in cap space gone to lock those three up.
Would the list-makers have put the Isles on the “winners” side for making no changes? Would you?
On trades and Travis Hamonic
As far as trades go, I definitely thought that would be the route Snow went to upgrade the top of the forwards group. Judging by the number of high-end forwards traded since the draft -- that would be one -- perhaps that market was not a busy one to begin with.
Of course that one, Taylor Hall, was on the Isles’ radar. That Edmonton traded Hall to the Devils for what seems like an underwhelming return in young defenseman Adam Larsson boiled the blood of more than a few Islanders fans.
From what I understand, the only Isles defenseman the Oilers wanted in a Hall deal was Travis Hamonic. I’m not sure if that swap was discussed back in October, right after Hamonic informed Snow of his trade request for personal reasons, but even if it were, Snow wouldn’t have done it on the eve of the season.
He was then only looking for a top-pair defenseman in return, given the Isles didn’t know what they had in Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock at that point. So a forward wasn’t an option for Snow.
Now, once the Isles were eliminated in May, I’m guessing Snow’s thinking might have changed. Pulock and Pelech showed more than just potential; I could see the Isles GM weighing the loss of Hamonic from a solid D corps with the gain of Hall on John Tavares’ left side for the next several years and deciding it was worth it, especially if Hamonic still needed to be closer to home.
But Hamonic told Snow he wanted to stay that day and that was that. You can be sure that Snow tried to offer up a package revolving around another young Isles defenseman but Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli wanted Hamonic and there was no way -- let me repeat, no way -- Snow was going to discount the emotional toll it took on his defenseman to make the request, play a very strong season, rescind said request and then trade Hamonic anyway.
There are lots of fun online tools to play around with rosters. Between XBox, Twitter, the salary-cap sites such as General Fanager and Cap Friendly, there are a million ways to play GM with your favorite team.
But the actual GM deals with not only the contracts and the metrics, but also with the human side. And Snow, despite evidence to the contrary at times with players he’s hardballed out the door, prizes loyalty.
Hamonic took a very team-friendly deal four summers ago. He’s a world-class person. Perhaps all that will change when his deal is up, but Snow wasn’t going to risk letting three longtime core players walk in free agency and also deal one of the other core guys, an emotional leader who also happens to be on one of the 10 best contracts in the league.
So that’s that.
On goalies and the World Cup
J-F Berube’s return on a one-year, $675,000 deal on Tuesday does not necessarily signal that Jaroslav Halak is out the door, but it does signal that the Islanders need to address their three-headed goaltender monster at some point.
That point almost certainly will be near the end of training camp. Halak and Thomas Greiss, along with new Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, are the three Team Europe goaltenders in the World Cup. It’s possible Andersen plays every game and the Isles’ two netminders do nothing in that tournament, which would make Snow’s job harder.
Best-case scenario: Halak is healthy and plays well in the World Cup. That would either convince Snow that Halak should stay and compete for his No. 1 job again or convince another GM who isn’t sold on his goaltenders in training camp that Halak would help.
Don’t look for a resolution soon.
On Ryan Pulock’s status
Been asked quite a bit about Pulock’s expansion-draft status. The Isles said the league informed them that Pulock would not be exempt since 2016-17 will be his third pro season, despite his entry-level contract only being in its second year.
The language used in the league’s release on the draft rules backs that up: “All first- and second-year professionals... will be exempt from selection.”
Unless there’s a change, calculate your protected list with Pulock needing to be on it.