Isles Offseason Preview (could even say Review too)
I apologize for the lack of posts in recent weeks, I took a vacation and needed some time away from hockey as I'm sorting out other aspects of this crazy adventure known as life. With that stated, lets look at the coming off-season for our New York Islanders. Now before I delve into it, this will likely read rather pessimistic, I expect no major moves or announcements concerning the arena situation. However, the Islanders do have a few things finally looking promising, so I'll discuss that at length as well. So, lets have a look shall we?
No news is disturbing news when it comes to replacing the "Old Barn", and the lack of replacement continues to be a huge hindrance on bringing the likes of well...any major free agent. For those looking to Brooklyn as a long term replacement, the ship of state there left long long ago and is never coming back. Brooklyn should be viewed at best as a one or two season engagement if the Isles are able to secure a more permanent structure somewhere on Long Island. This pre-season's one game audition may be a huge success or resounding failure, but from the look of it, right now Mass Transit is the only viable option to get to 40-44 home games, and less seating than the MTS Centre in Manitoba. I just don't see Barclay's Arena being a long-term option. Still, it's the best of a bad situation that needs to play out for a while yet.
Expect the usual as we've seen the last few years. The Islanders need to re-sign PA Parenteau, but for how long is the issue. If the Islanders can bring back PA on a 3 year deal, it would be best for the team and player as higher ceilinged players are on the horizon (Kirill Kabanov, David Ullstrom, Johan Sundström, Johan Persson for example). The Islanders need secondary scoring and Defense, neither of which are really there at the likely price points the Isles will look to sign guys at. There might be a veteran pick up or two or maybe a Staios re-signing, but I just don't see the Islanders all that active on the Free Agent market. Re-sign PA and maybe Staois as a bottom pair guy and that will be it.
Parenteau and Staois are the most likely of the Islanders Free Agents to potentially return. Milan Jurcina's year was awful and isn't likely back despite the upside of his shot, if only he hit people and stayed healthy, alas, what might have been. Also expect Al Montoya gone; Evgeni Nabokov is the unquestioned starter for this team now and its time to give the back-up/protege job to one of Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson (both of whom were significant contributors at Bridgeport). If I were a betting man, I think Steve Yzerman has Montoya in his sights, as he's proven he can start with success and is a player for Tampa Bay's favorite team to pick players off of (I think Tampa has claimed, signed or traded for more Islanders than any other team in the NHL during Yzerman's time as GM). I don't foresee anything major happening for other potential free agents such as Trevor Gillies, who could be re-signed or not.
Well, again, the Islanders haven't been very active on this front in the Off-season for a while. Last years deals of Bruno Gervais and Trent Hunter has so far produced: little in the way of production from Brian Rolston and then two prospects (who ended the year at the ECHL) for Rolston and Mike Mottau (still a win-win trade as Mottau and Rolston did little on-ice), in addition the compensation for Gervais is still unknown. Yes, I realize I have forgotten the 4th round pick for 4th round pick three-way swap with Vancouver and Buffalo with a greedy Defensemen thrown in for good measure, but that one was a wash for Garth. The Islanders have needs and pieces, but I just don't see them making a re-build trade with any prospects (Ahem, Calvin de Haan) or Picks (that 4th overall) involved. Garth holds onto picks and prospects and hasn't shown a willingness to deal either since the re-build began 6 years ago.
The Islanders, as mentioned above have the 4th overall pick in this years draft. Seeing as the Edmonton Oilers are going to take Nail Yakupov, picks 2-4 will be a crapshoot. To review the Isles drafting methodology, please look up any piece by BD Gallof on the subject. The Isles do not draft for need and don't select defensemen high (hence why Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley and a few other Defensemen of note aren't in the Islanders system right now) so the arguments for Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Murray and Matt Dumba may all be moot. I refuse to make a stated prediction on the Islanders pick at 4 but certainly hope that if they decide on a D-man they select Reinhart to go with previous picks Andrey Pedan and Scott Mayfield to form a long-term trio of guys who can hit hard, are big and add some offensive up-side. I'll also continue to argue for Reinhart on Twitter, but again, don't expect that to be the pick and am not resigned to it. Draft day will come, the Isles will make a pick and fans will over-analyze the player or whine about the guy they didn't select (such as Sean Couturier). Rounds 2-7 will be the usual Isles push for best available players that fit their specific profile, in addition, if the Isles add additional picks to this years stock, they'll apply the same philosophy.
The Islanders forward corps continues to develop into an interesting group with more upside guys continuing to show promise. Its safe to say the days of Josh Bailey as an NHL center should be over and Frans Nielsen or Marty Reasoner should line up on the third line to replace him next year. "But Reasoner was awful and Nielsen's our second line center," well, sure, but Frans on the 3rd line is more than likely going to be the assignment as I think guys like Ryan Strome or Casey Cizikas need scoring line minutes in the NHL (both also have more upside than Nielsen). Returning Nielsen to the 3rd line will also return him to doing what he does best, two way hockey. I can envision Cizikas and Strome getting long looks as the 2nd line Center and if either pans out they'll play with Bailey/Grabner or Okposo/Grabner (the loser of the sweepstakes playing on the 3rd line with Neilsen and hopefully Ullstrom). The Isles should send Nino to the AHL and get top line minutes there as well as Kirill Kabanov who will mercifully be freed from the clutches of the CHL that did little to advance his development (if there was one player the Islanders should have gotten an exemption for last year, it was Kirill). Also Bridgeport will add Kirill Petrov as long as the KHL doesn't dick around and sign him to a long term deal and he comes over on an ELC. The Forward corps is crowded and needs some tinkering, but it will likely be internal fixes and nothing major this offseason. No Parise, so don't consider it.
Defensively the Islanders NEED outside help, but it's not coming for a while, if ever. So with that in mind, the Isles should be willing to provide prospects time to see if they can preform at the NHL level. Chief among these guys is Matt Donovan, who lead Bridgeport Defensemen in scoring last year. the Oklahoma native is probably the most NHL ready of the Bridgeport lot and should get time with the Big club in pre-season and should land a spot on the opening night roster in the top 4 for the Isles. Other prospects that have won looks include Andrey Pedan and little Aaron Ness who impressed in his call-up (I still fear that one major hit into the boards will do a lot of harm). Calvin de Haan missed to much time last year to injury to warrant serious consideration for this season and Ty Wishart, while good at the AHL hasn't proven himself at the NHL and is on the precipice of "AAAA" status to borrow a baseball term. Want proof; look at the number of times he had been passed over for call-ups, some were true to his own injuries, but as a former 1st round pick, he was left behind for the aforementioned Ness and Donovan, his stock has fallen. But as with the forwards, expect minimal outside help in the form of trades or signings of impact players. maybe more PTOs a la Staios, but nothing major.
In Goal, the answer is simple this year, Evgeni Nabokov is the unquestioned starter. Rick DiPietro's circus will continue, unless he finally hangs up his skates, but that in and of itself will likely cause another side circus that the Islanders don't need. The future is also bright with three prospects who can all hold their own. I don't see the Isles trading any of Poulin/Nilsson/Koskinen and actually can foresee a Nilsson/Koskinen combination at Bridgeport with Poulin riding along as Nabokov's caddy this season. For the first time in a few seasons the Islanders have a starter, there's very few questions involving the Goal situation and the omnipresence of DiPietro isn't nearly as strong as years past.
The Isles fired(or failed to renew the contracts of, in which case its just another term for fired) assistant coaches Scott Allen and Dean Chynoweth, they're likely to return to a two assistant setup with a Defensive coach to pair with Offensive assistant Doug Weight. Who that is remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see who is hired to fill that role. Head Coach Jack Capuano returns for a second full season to attempt to guide the Isles to the playoffs with the team assembled and nothing more, it's still a daunting task, especially when the Defense needs to improve 10 fold just to get into the 8th seed discussion. If Capuano has another stretch like the Isles had in November, it is not inconceivable that he'll be fired and replaced by either Weight or Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson, but the hope is the players play for him on a night in night out basis. There's also no one currently available aside from Michel Therrian that would seem to be a perfect head coach for this team. If Dan Bylsma is fired the Isles should consider hiring him, but the perfect coach for the Isles was already hired by Toronto in the form of Randy Carlyle. So there won't be a shake-up in head coaches this off-season unless something seismic happens a la Bylsma, but even then, don't expect anything.
The Isles offseason is likely to be quiet, no major signings or trades or arena news. Anything on those fronts would be huge, but they're just not in the cards. The Isles will probably bing in Kirill Petrov, but it'll just be another year of relying on the core to get things done and a Defense just not equipped to stop the bleeding. The Goal situation is the quietest it's been in years and shouldn't be tinkered with. There just isn't a whole lot to expect on Long Island. As I said in last season's preview, the Isles are close, but still need help, I remain steadfast in that assertion, but this defense isn't going to bring playoff hockey to Long Island without some kind of help.
Comment away folks.