Barring the sort of winning streak that the top five teams in the Metro Division have each had this month, the Islanders are entering the NHL’s Dec. 19-27 roster freeze thinking not short term, but long term.
The NHL trade deadline is not until Feb. 28, but it would behoove the last-place Isles to start thinking about and offering up any roster players they can to contending teams to try and get a jump on the deadline action and to free up roster and salary cap space for 2017-18.
Amazingly, the Isles already have $65.8 million in cap space tied up for next year among 19 players — all 14 of the forwards that count against the current year’s cap (including Mikhail Grabovski), four defensemen and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. For a team that seems to be in need of an overhaul, that’s an ugly place to be heading into next season.
But with so many players signed beyond this year, it may be difficult to find trading partners in the two months left before the trade deadline. It’s been an absolutely dead market so far, with only a few minor swaps. The Kings, still very much in the Western Conference playoff chase, will be without Jonathan Quick until around the deadline and would seem to need a goaltender.
Other than L.A., there aren’t many natural fits for Islanders on other rosters. Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas Greiss are the only pending unrestricted free agents but neither would bring back much beyond a mid-round draft pick. Calvin de Haan will be a restricted free agent and the Islanders are likely to lose either him or Thomas Hickey in the expansion draft, seeing that they must protect Ryan Pulock. Are de Haan or Hickey one of those mystical top-four defensemen all teams covet? We’ll perhaps find out as the games march on.
And there’s the question of who’ll be in charge after this season. Owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are continuing their search/listening tour, gathering as much information on potential hires and various hockey people as they can. How that would affect general manager Garth Snow’s ability to make moves the next two months is unclear.
Goaltending carousel spins to No. 30?
J-F Berube didn’t win his season debut on Friday, but he may have done enough to get some more work in the eyes of his coach.
“I think he gave us a great chance and he deserves more time moving forward,” Jack Capuano said of Berube, who made 34 saves in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres. “If you play good, you’re going to continue to play. That’s the theory right now.”
Where that leaves Halak and Greiss is not known, though probably not in a good place. Halak is still the goaltender of the three the Isles would most like to move to get that $4.5 million cap hit for next season off the books, but not many teams would surrender a prospect or a high pick to try and wedge that number onto their own cap.
That’s not of much concern to Capuano, whose job security lessens with each loss. So don’t be surprised to see Berube in net again soon.
Playoff teams running away
The Islanders have had some ugly first halves in the last decade, sitting outside playoff territory heading into the Dec. 24-26 holiday break. This year has been decidedly down, especially given the team’s expectations, but it’s more the incredible success of their Eastern Conference competitors that has the Islanders so far from the playoff hunt.
Here’s where the Isles stood relative to the top eight in the East in their last five non-playoff seasons, as well as this season’s current situation:
Dec. 23 record/points back/final record/points back
2016-17 11-13-6/13 points out/??
2013-14 11-20-7/9 points out/34-37-11/14 pts back
2011-12 11-16-6/11 points out/34-37-11/13 pts back
2010-11 8-18-6/18 points out/30-39-13/20 pts back
2009-10 14-17-7/4 points out/34-37-11/9 pts back
2008-09 10-21-3/14 points out/26-47-9/32 pts back
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