General Manager Garth Snow speaks at a press conference on...

General Manager Garth Snow speaks at a press conference on at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. (August 13, 2008) Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps the most glaring need for the Islanders as the first day of free agency arrives? A big, crease-clearing defenseman to bolster the back end.

So after adding some offensive prospects through last weekend's draft, the Islanders will keep their blue line in mind once the NHL's crop of free agents tests the market Thursday.

"I think our team would benefit from an upgrade in certain positions. That position - a defenseman - is one we'll take a good look at," general manager Garth Snow said. "In a perfect world we'd get some size and a defenseman that can move the puck. That would be a big boost to our lineup."

But the Islanders will be among the many teams looking to improve their defensive corps in a year in which the market is thin.

"I don't think it's as deep as it has been in the past," Snow said. "I think it's more of a reflection with how the [collective-bargaining agreement] is working right now. You have young players coming out of their entry-level deals getting long-term contracts. Because these quality players are getting long-term deals at a younger age, you're not seeing as many of the high-end players hitting the free-agent market."

With a dearth of skilled defenseman beyond the top-tier guys - Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov, Zbynek Michalek and Sergei Gonchar - the Islanders will be competing with virtually every other team in the league to land one of the elite talents.

And while the Islanders haven't emptied their pockets by making any splashy signings in recent years, they have shelled out significant sums to players they deemed worthy of multiyear deals.

Last July 1, the Islanders signed goaltender Dwayne Roloson to a two-year, $5-million deal; in the summer of 2008 they signed defenseman Mark Streit to a five-year contract worth $20.5 million.

Any speculation that Snow is under strict budgetary constraints, he said, is "not true. I've had the opportunity to add players who I think will add to the team's success in the short term and the long term and I've never had restrictions on that when it comes to improving this team."

However, Snow has proved adept at sniffing out some good bargains. Last July he signed unrestricted free agent Matt Moulson to a one-year deal worth $575,000. Moulson went on to become the team's leading goal-scorer, with 30 and 18 assists.

So if the Islanders don't land one of the more coveted players, don't be surprised to see Snow find some hidden gems.

"I think we've had a lot of success in [free agency] the past few years, Mark Streit, Matt Moulson, our goalies from a year ago ," Snow said. "We'll look for that same success."

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