Isles roster battles take shape in Boston
With Tuesday night's roster set for Isles-Bruins here, a few thoughts on where we stand with the final 23:
Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome (along with Michael Grabner, who missed practice the last two days) found themselves in the second group Monday after the Isles reduced their NHL camp to 43 players. Pretty much the entire first group was composed of 12 forwards under consideration for roster spots, so it seems logical to assume being in group two felt like a slight.
"If they want to look at it that way, they can," Jack Capuano said. "I think certain guys need to know they have to do a little bit more. We have these three games here and some of them, it's important to take a close look at a few positions."
Bailey and Strome are playing Tuesday night on a second line with Nikolay Kulemin, so here's a chance to do a little bit more. Strome has the option of going to Bridgeport, even though that would be a decidedly unpopular demotion. Bailey, entering year two of a five-year, $17.5-million deal, would seem to be a lock for something on the big club since it's almost impossible to think Garth Snow would find a trade partner for that contract or that Bailey would be sent down.
Bailey is in a battle with four others for two top-nine wing spots. Cory Conacher, who gets a turn playing with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on Tuesday night, and Jack Skille are also in the mix with Anders Lee and Grabner. It's hard to know where everyone sits right now, so that five-guys, two-spots battle likely will be determined by this week's games. There's also room for a 13th forward among those five, plus Colin McDonald, who did what he had to do in Brooklyn on Friday and will be hard to let go.
Strome is in a much tougher spot. Capuano told Newsday on Monday that he sees Mikhail Grabovski, who played the last two games on the left side, as a center. Capuano is reluctant to move Brock Nelson out of the center position, but it seems he might have to if Grabovski is only a center.
Tavares, Frans Nielsen (who centered Lee and Skille on Tuesday night) and Casey Cizikas appear to have the other three center positions locked up. So Strome has to beat out Grabovski and Nelson to become an opening-night player. That seems unlikely.
On defense, Lubomir Visnovsky's back spasms on Monday certainly threw a wrench into Capuano's evaluations. Matt Donovan took Visnovsky's spot Tuesday night, but how to plan on defense? Griffin Reinhart gets another chance to show he can make the roster, paired with T.J. Brennan.
If Visnovsky isn't ready by the end of the week, things could be in flux.
One thing that would help this logjam everywhere? A trade. There are no signs that Snow is closing in on a deal, but rosters will be set by next Tuesday, so some cap-pushing clubs might feel more pressure to unload.
Of course, those teams can't add big salaries, so unless it's some sort of "we'll take this off your hands if you take that off our hands" swap, Bailey wouldn't be part of a deal with, say, the Bruins or Hawks unless it was a big deal.
So here we sit, with lots of confusion and congestion. Who knew the Isles preseason games meant so much?