Garth Snow had a busy weekend at the NHL Draft, twice trading his way into the first round to select high-end prospects in a deep 2015 draft class.
Free agency begins at noon Wednesday, which could promise more activity for the Islanders' general manager. But this activity might be geared more toward lining up the team's own restricted free agents than hunting down new players from a decidedly thin unrestricted free agent class.
A source indicated Monday that the Islanders were nearing agreement on a new contract for defenseman Thomas Hickey, believed to be a three-year deal in the range of $6.5 million total.
Hickey, the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft, was claimed off waivers from the Kings before the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He's played 202 of a possible 212 games for the Islanders since then, more than any other defenseman.
The Islanders also have a pair of 20-goal scorers, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, to sign. Sources indicated Monday that a deal for Lee was getting closer. Nelson, who does not have arbitration rights, is likely to hold contract talks later in the offseason.
As for Wednesday's free-agent frenzy, the Islanders have a few small, targeted needs, but nothing like the big changes from last offseason. "We'll dip our toes in, but if nothing comes of it, we like our group," Snow said Friday during the draft.
He was referring to possible trades, but that sentiment also applies to his approach to free agency.
Michal Neuvirth, 27, finished the season as the Isles' backup goaltender to Jaroslav Halak, who had a very strong playoff series against the Capitals. According to Patrik Stefan, his agent, the goaltender hopes to find a starter's job once the market opens Wednesday.
That seems unlikely, given that there were a half-dozen goaltender trades at the draft. The Isles would welcome Neuvirth back as Halak's understudy again. If there's no deal to be made, other attractive options include the Flames' Karri Ramo, the Penguins' Thomas Greiss and the Stars' Jhonas Enroth.
The Islanders also might seek a veteran defenseman to round out their group. Snow said Lubomir Visnovsky, an Islander the last three seasons, likely will not return. "We made our offer," he said.
But the few big names out on the market almost certainly will look elsewhere for long-term deals. The Islanders currently have roughly $16.6 million in cap space for next season, but deals for Hickey, Lee, Nelson, a goaltender and a defenseman will knock that down by more than half.
That's rarefied air for the budget-conscious Islanders, who are unlikely to push to the upper limit of the salary cap.
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