Kevin SchultzMaybe this is out of context, but it sure sounds like the Islanders are all set for the summer. From a Newsday article yesterday about signing goaltender Chad Johnson:
After six signings yesterday of varying importance — but no “big fish” — it seems as though Garth Snow is settled in free agency. A whopping 86 NHL players signed a new deal yesterday, so to some extent a vast chunk of the available players are gone. Two of the remaining that the Islanders could/should be interested in are Mikhail Grabovski and David Legwand, who could lend experience and are capable of 50ish points. They would definitely be useful players but how far down the depth chart they would be willing to play could be an issue, as you wouldn’t want them keeping Lee/Strome/Nelson too far down.
Right now though, signs point to the Islanders being done in free agency. Arthur Staple, in a radio interview last night, speculated that the Islanders may still be looking to improve the team via trade.
The good news is that the Islanders finalized their goaltending situation; Jaroslav Halak previously and now both Chad Johnson and David Leggio as insurance policies. If it goes as you hope, that alone should improve the Islanders to the point of challenging for the playoffs. They finished 14 points out and if a solid, actual goalie — and not the 30th ranked tandem of last year — is in place it seems fair to say that could be a 7-10 point difference in the standings. With all those blown two-goal leads last year, an improved goaltender maybe bails the team out in a few of those games and there you go.
Then there are the usual Garth Snow Darkhorse Picks, who have either failed to catch on elsewhere or have not been given a proper chance with other teams. One is TJ Brennan, who has played only small parts of NHL seasons and put up gigantic numbers in the AHL last year. Hopefully that can transition to the NHL. The other is Cory Conacher, who looked like he had caught on in Tampa in 2012-13 with 24 points in 35 games, was traded to Ottawa and then put on waivers, claimed off waivers by Buffalo and then not given a qualifying offer.
After that, it’s depth for the Sound Tigers in Jack Skille and Harry Zolnierczyk. Yawn. A necessary thing since Bridgeport, despite the influx of prospects, has been losing players to the Islanders. And injures can arise, etc, etc.
So once again the Islanders strike out with the big free agents. Whether that’s because they have a GM that gets shit on in the media, the owner’s reputation, the fact that the team is bottom five in the league for the sixth time in seven seasons or [other reason], it’s blatantly clear that it’s very difficult for the team to improve through free agency.
There’s Jaroslav Halak this year, which is great, because most years it’s been Jay Pandolfo or Jon Sim types. But it’s patently obvious that free agency is not the Islanders strong suit. On the other side, after some awful long-term contracts of their own that get them a ton of grief, it’s also not the worst thing that the Islanders didn’t get the next seven years of Matt Niskanen.
The plan has been all along for prospects like Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson et al. to become impact players for this team and now we may just get to see that happen without Pierre-Marc Bouchard or whatever middling free agent that would usually come in impeding that. But until we see those players and others finally step in and take over, it’s hard as hell to picture this team being significantly different at the current moment than last year’s incarnation, save for the goaltending that I’ve griped about for way too long (Praise be to the goaltending!). We’ve seen John Tavares and Kyle Okposo take leaps and bounds over the years and become first-line talent. It seems that, barring a major adjustment, the Islanders will be depending on other home grown players to take their own leaps this season.