The New York Islanders have started off their summer by actually going back to school and working to shore up a roster that needs to be better in 2014-15 as they enter the last season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn and Barclays Center.
With that reality coming up on the fan-base that resides near Uniondale faster than they would like, it cannot be stressed enough how important of a season the upcoming one is for the franchise. Not only for a send-off that would befit this once great, proud and championship franchise but also to give a jump-start to new beginnings on and off the ice.
It is time to move past the rebuild and take a large step towards being a perennial playoff contender, if not competing for the Stanley Cup itself within a couple of years.
Off the ice, things have been noisy with general manager Garth Snow getting a jump on the July 1 free agent market, first dealing for exclusive negotiating rights to goaltender Jaroslav Halak then signing him to a 4 year, 18 million dollar contract, filling the Islanders biggest need.
Many experts feel New York still needs a top 6 defenseman but at what expense? If there is no trade worked out, someone will have to begin and possibly spend most of the year in Bridgeport when they were considered a regular just a season ago.
At forward, the Islanders seem set for a long time. Captain John Tavares is entering his best prime years in terms of talent and production, Kyle Okposo took huge strides last year and the development of Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome cannot be understated about how deep this team could be rolling four lines every night.
Still, a top 6 winger to allow Nelson to thrive in a potentially less exposed and pressure packed role of playing with Tavares and Okposo on the top line might be in the offing.
Assuming the obvious that a backup goaltender is needed and thinking that Snow is looking to shore up the roster in the aforementioned positions, let’s take a glance at the unrestricted free agent class of 2014 and the top 3 that could interest the Islanders in each slot (players are listed in order of 2013-14 points scored not preference).
1. Jussi Jokinen (81-21-36-57) : Jokinen has now completed 12 seasons in the NHL and is still only 31 years old. Never a big scorer, he has only eclipsed the 30 goal mark once, settling more into the 15-20 range. More troublesome is the fact he has averaged only a little over 15 minutes per game and not near the 20 that would be required of a first line winger. Some say with increased time equals increased production but we have seen things go the other way as well in recent years. (Career : 660-149-265-414)
2. Radim Vrbata (80-20-31-51) : Vrbata is also entering his 13th year in the league but a year older at 32. After struggling early in his career over 5 years and 4 teams, he has exploded in Phoenix and developed into quite the sniper, scoring 137 times in 428 games (26 average). He is constantly in the 225-250 shot range and has become very durable (94% of games played over last 5 years). (Career : 792-215-249-464)
3. Marian Gaborik (41-11-19-30) : What an electrifying addition to the first line Gaborik would be. Clearly the most accomplished scorer on the entire UFA list with 0.87 PPG in his career, he has also proven to be more durable than most give him credit for. Over the past five years, since joining the Rangers, he has played 82% of all eligible regular season games. Would think he desires to stay in Los Angeles, but cannot see a scenario where the Kings fit him under cap. (Career : 810-347-357-704)
1. Andrei Markov (81-7-36-43) – The 35 year old Markov is a dynamic offensive defenseman who has amassed very good totals over his 12 years with the Canadiens. Now at 35 years old, could be looking at the final contract of his career. For that reason, not sure Snow breaks bank here but would be worthy replacement for the still very iffy status of Lubomir Visnovsky. (Career : 765-98-344-442)
2. Dan Boyle (75-12-24-36) – Another aging defenseman at 37 with some left in the tank, Boyle has already been told by the Sharks he will not be resigned. At 37, a 1 or 2 year deal would suit the Isles just fine and add another power play quarterback. Maybe even get Frans Nielsen back down low where he belongs on the man advantage. (Career : 954-144-417-561)
3. Brooks Orpik (72-2-11-13) – You will get hardly any offense out of 33 year old Orpik and like it. But what you will get is a tough as nails, defense first, crease clearing defenseman with 92 games of playoff experience. If that is where you are heading, you need someone on the squad with that invaluable experience to mentor the young stable of talent. Has played 88% of Penguins regular season games over last six years. (Career : 703-13-119-132)
1. Evgeni Nabokov (40-2.74-.905) – I still think Nabokov is the most logical choice to backup new starter Jaroslav Halak. The team and management love him and he is absolutely the life of the clubhouse. His veteran experience could be invaluable in a backup role. A 1 year deal for 2mm seems about right.
2. Jonas Gustavsson (27-2.63-.908) – The monster just finished up a season in Detroit backing up Jimmy Howard and did an admirable, not remarkable job. At 29 years old, would be a young and cheap option to relieve Halak for 20-30 starts per season, something that Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson could not do. The ‘monster’ had a better save percentage than both.
3. Thomas Greiss (25-2.29-.920) – With save percentages of .912,.915 and .920 last year, Greiss would also be a good option for the Islanders. Some goalies are just not meant for starting duty, instead being relegated to backup status, which is exactly the category Greiss falls into in my opinion. He could do a real nice job given a light to moderate work load.
There are many who feel the Islanders are not done shopping after signing Halak and Ville Pokka to his entry level deal. Holes still exist in the lineup that need to be patched come training camp but if they are, you could expect this team, barring major injuries, to take a step forward next year and qualify for the post-season once again.
Work has begun in earnest but Snow cannot afford to sit back on his laurels and admire his new acquisitions just yet. He needs to stay aggressive and ahead of the pack.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Who would you like to see Snow pursue when the madness open on July 1? Any of these guys piqué your interest or are you thinking elsewhere?