We know it’s been a while since we posted, but we wanted to bask in the rare light of an Islanders playoff appearance by taking in the games, atmosphere, and enjoyment that came with a series that ran one game longer than we predicted which included two embarrassing shutouts, yet somehow left Islander fans with the feeling that the drive for 5 was realized.
That’s what losing so badly for so long can do for you.
We aren’t overlooking the fact that an 8th seed is SUPPOSED to lose to a 1st seed. That’s obvious- except to Penguin fans, who are ignorant to what winning feels like because, well, they live in Pittsburgh. However, in this shortened season, round two in both conferences have their 6th and 7th seed still playing, and in the west, the 5th seed is still in action. This illustrates the damage that the Islanders did to themselves by dropping so many points in the last 4 games of the regular season. It also makes us wonder that if instead of trying to sell his team captain and second line center to Chicago Garth Snow tried buying some veteran presence, then we’d be watching us play against Boston right now instead of watching the guys golfing at Tam O’Shanter. And that leads us into our next question: now what?
Islander fans were entirely right to bask in a highly unexpected playoff berth. The only “professional prognosticator” who pegged these guys for the playoffs early was Jeremy Roenick, and we all know how well he lived up to his expectations in Chicago, so why listen to him on this nugget of wisdom? However, the man who inspired “Bonelick” in the old school Sega Genesis “Mutant League Hockey” was on the money. Now, the time for self adulation is entirely over. You didn’t win the last game, so when reflecting back on last season, stop feeling the warm fuzzies. Time to put the boots to the ground and get to work. And by work, the question is the roster.
This team has two ways that the improve their roster: drafts, and waiver wire. Trades are not viable for Snow, because if they were, we would have seen some beyond salary dumps. And free agency? Two words: Marty Reasoner. Many pundits are talking about how, with the lowering of the salary cap and with amnesty buyouts, this will be the year where teams who positioned themselves with cap floor tams can make an impact. We do not for a second believe that changing salary cap dynamics will motivate Garth Snow into any action involving anything more than snack foods. Nor do we believe that Brooklyn on the horizon will entice free agents to take less than market price deals. The 8th playoff seed was great for Kyle Okposo and John Tavares, but what will entice upcoming unrestricted free agent Pascal DuPuis to leave Pittsburgh to play here?
In short, the building is resolved. The arena will be new. The team made the playoffs. There is financial stability between the new TV from NBC, Cablevision and Canada (roughly $32 million cash if you’re counting) roster depreciation tax breaks (over ten million dollars annually), the Suozzi lease, $20 parking, and as Nassau comptroller George Maragos recently pointed out, a sold out Nassau Coliseum creates $167,000 in tax revenue for the county per game- $24,000 alone comes from the seat tax build into a ticket- so it is clear to anyone with eyes that the bulk of revenues per game fall into the coffers of Charles Wang. There is no reason to NOT spend money this offseason, and that’s the premise that we’re going with.
But, spend it on what?
Every Islanders “writer” has a wish list that they’ve been working on. We are no exceptions. Our plan is to identify what we see as needs, and how they should be addressed. Also, we’re completely guessing at who gets amnestied based on bad contracts and poor performance. So, without further adieu:
Needs: 1st line wing, 2nd line center, depth forward, top pairing defenseman, starting goalie.
1st line wing: Organizationally, this would be 2010 top 5 draft pick Nino Neidereitter. Nino has proven that he can score in juniors, the AHL, and in international competition. What he hasn’t proven is an ability to score in the NHL. That frankly is scary. Would we give Nino a shot at the top wing if this was not now a playoff team with aspirations to run deep into the post season? Yup. But this is now a team with the expectation of making a run deep into the post season. This isn’t the time to audition a guy with less goals in his NHL career than Casey Cizikas. And as mentioned, Pascal DuPuis knows how to caddy for a superstar, but there is no way that the Islanders could entice him to leave Pittsburgh and that annual guarantee of playoff shares for 1-3 rounds. In reality, Brad Boyes will come back for a decent raise- figure $2.5 mil per, but we really don’t want Boyes anchoring line 1. So, what to do?
Free Agency: David Clarkson. Trade: Thomas Vanek. Amnesty: Dany Heatley.
The first two options would fit well next to Tavares, for differing reasons. In Vanek, you have a highly skilled forward who can drop 40 pucks a year into the net. Maybe 50 next to JT91. He may be a bit of a loafer, but he has shown that he can skate and score, and that was pretty much the approach that the Islanders used in the playoffs. In Clarkson you have the 20 goal role player that always seems to ride shotgun to JT91 and Matt Moulson, but a guy who adds toughness, plays hard, hits, scraps, and works along the boards. Also, he’s currently not an overpriced star, so he may take a market price contract. And New Jersey is trending downward, having missed the playoffs two of the last 3 years, and has no one set to replace Martin “Cy Young of Hockey” Brodeur. We saw how bad the Devils were without Brodeur this season. After 2013-2014, it’ll be full time Scott Clemensen’s. Heatley is our buyout candidate because he fills the role of “guy needing a change in scenery that will work cheap,” a Garth Snow staple. Heatley was once wickedly offensive both on the ice and on the highway- would he have one more season left to share with JT? At a million dollar one year deal, Garth would think long and hard on such.
2nd line center: Organizationally, this would be 2011 top 5 draft pick Ryan Strome. Strome has lit up the junior circuit, and played about as well statistically as Ryan Nugent Hopkins in international play during the lockout. However, Strome’s transition to the AHL was rough by his standards- 7 points in 10 games, compared to 94 points in 53 games for the Niagra Ice Dogs. It’s hard to deny that this is the guy who should be the team’s second line center. In reality, they may stick Strome next to JT91 and keep the Frans Neilsen- Kyle Okposo faceoff rotation intact, and resign Josh Bailey to a low cost, high risk deal- that risk being October through February (let’s not forget that Bailey’s breakout season was 19 points in 40 games, and the nice guy playmaker had only 8 assists). But we don’t want to recreate a lineup that gave us an exciting first round loss to Pittsburgh that included two absolute domination beatings, right? So what to do?
Free agency: Nathan Horton. Trade: Ryan Kesler. Amnesty: Brad Richards.
Horton and Kesler are similar players, statistically, in scoring and penalty minutes, though Kesler’s game is based more on speed and Horton on size. Both Horton in Boston and Kesler in Vancouver are used to being second fiddle centers. Both have been both productive and unafraid to mix things up a little bit. And in the case of both players, injuries are the only concern we’d have with these acquisitions. Honestly, we’d prefer to see Strome here, but Snow’s philosophy with high level picks is to use them for cap hits or bury them in the AHL – we have 4 of our last 5 first rounders there- so who knows. Richards is wilting under the pressure of being the man for the Rangers, but on this team, he wouldn’t need to be. And the Rangers would be lucky to get themselves out of a contract of that length and absurd size so easily.
Depth Forward: Traditionally Snow likes using the waiver wire, NHL retreads, or career AHL guy to fill this spot (see Keith Aucoin, Colin McDonald, Jay Pandolfo, Rob Schremp, etc) to fill this role. However, if your aspirations are to improve, then you must use a different formula than what has only worked marginally in the past. Organizationally, Brock Nelson would be this guy. First round draft pick, hockey pedigree, big guy, and can slide between lines 3 and 4 easily, projecting to a marginal second liner at best. Depth. Sort of what they’ll resign Josh Bailey and Keith Aucoin to do, and then wonder why the team isn’t improving. We may want some different NHL experience, especially with looking to step it up, so with that:
Free agency: Ryane Clowe. Trade: Ryan Malone. Amnesty: Mike Fisher
Until this season, Clowe has been playing in San Jose, putting up around 50 points a year and racking up about a minute a game in penalties. He has had a few different roles in San Jose, and what may be fortunate is that he waited until his walk year to have a bad season in San Jose…only to pick his play up with a more physical disgusting Rangers team. That up and down type of year may make Clowe an affordable upgrade for the Islanders. A similar style player who is overpaid would be Tampa’s Ryan Malone. We’re long time fans of Malone’s scoring and occasional toughness, and think that a team so up against the salary cap and with so many needs may be willing to move a player that’s oft injured and pricey. Fisher is interesting, as he’s still productive, but he makes a lot of money and it’s Nashville. The Preds may not amnesty him, but if they do, he would be an absolute upgrade over the Marty Reasoners and Keith Aucoins of the world.
First Pairing Defense: Organizationally, this should be Griffin Reinhart. He is dominating peers in the WHL and already has a man’s build at 6’4″ and over 200 pounds and growing. His plus minus has gotten better every season, and he contributes about half a point a game to an offense. Stick this guy with Lubomir Visnovsky as a top pairing, and you may actually have a top pairing. However, some folks say that a 19 year old defenseman does not belong in the NHL. Our research proving otherwise aside, a top 5 draft pick should be in the NHL within 2 years of selection, so this would be a rush, but not a frantic one, and placed in the hands of a very capable veteran- look what Lubo did for Thomas Hickey for proof! But since Snow would rather work a waiver wire than look at his draft picks, lets look at some other options.
Free agency: Rob Scuderi. Trade: Matt Carle. Amnesty: James Wisniewski.
None of these guys are true number one defensemen in the sense that we may want. However, each bring valuable skill sets to the team. Scuderi brings two Stanley Cup rings to this team, having won in Pittsburgh in 2009 and Los Angeles in 2012. Knowing how to win is something this team sorely needs, as they do not have a guy with even one cup ring on their roster, including their GM, and only one coach who earned his in the twilight of his career. Since this team runs a defense without a true top guy already, at least Scuderi thickens up the experience of the defense, and pushes out a weaker player like good ol’ “Road Cone” Finley. With Carle, again, Tampa is up against the lowering cap and may want to move this guy for a few defensive prospects and a pick. Carle makes $5 million dollars a year, puts up Mark Streit offense like numbers, plays better defense than Mark Streit, and is almost a decade younger than Mark Streit. Carle does have a way to go on the contract he signed in the last off season, but if the options were trading guys I never planned on promoting to the NHL and not signing a declining player for $5 million a year to get a productive $5 million dollar player, that’s an option you take. Wisniewski was once an Islander beloved for showing the Rangers his impression of their post game locker room rituals. Columbus gave him an absurd contract- he is paid more than Tavares- but if he could come in with that buyout and accept something in the $2 million range, he would be a WAY better pick up than whatever the waiver wire throws at us, and better than Strait, Hickey, and Carkner both offensively and in toughness.
This NEVER gets old:
Goaltending: Organizationally, we are bereft at goal. Kevin Poulin no longer inspires confidence from us when he plays net. Anders Nilson lost a developmental year to a illness cured by the super science of vitamins- not surprising when Wang was looking to save money by bringing in that Transylvanian blood expert, Dr. Acula. Mikko Koskinen had a big year in Europe, ala Jesse Joensuu last season. And we saw how Jesse’s big year translated to the Eastern Conference – no goals in 7 games. Realistically, Snow will make Nabokov an offer. Hopefully it’s a significant price cut, because they guy did not earn his keep in the postseason at all…a major reason why San Jose cut him loose after a 44 win season. But again, there are options.
Free agency: Mike Smith. Trade: Jonathan Bernier. Amnesty- Roberto Luongo.
Smith’s numbers are similar to Nabokov, but the price is presently 25% cheaper, and he’s 6 years younger. Would we prefer Smith to Nabby? It’s kind of a wash. Yes, we like the youth factor, but we’d prefer a better goalie compared to both. So, we would absolutely make a strong push for Bernier. Like Poulin and this year’s first round pick strong. Bernier no doubt benefits by having a better-than-Islander defense in front of him, but the guy is improving every year, is 24, makes $1.25 million, and would be under RFA rights for a couple of years at the least. He could be a ten year goalie, which would be a relief in terms of just having to find a capable backup. The wildcard here would be Roberto Luongo. Luongo doesn’t quite come up big in the postseason, but he gets his team there annually. And it could be a sort of homecoming to one of the better accounts on Twitter. We’d take a flyer with Luongo over Nabokov if the price was right.
So there you have it. Roster holes examined, some predictions and recommendation of our liking to fix it. We don’t expect Snow to follow this approach, or even address all issues, but there is no denying that upgrades are needed if this team wants to do more than win 2 games in a first round, and wants to stop being the home of auditions for waiver wires guys, career AHLers, retreads, and fresh faced rookies. That’s our take. However, it’s only a conversation if you add your takes, thoughts, and proposed changes in the comments section below.
Special thanks to @dmech06 for his stirring asertations of how the top seeded Penguins upset the 8th seed Islanders.
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About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely