7 Questions for the Islanders in 2013

Kevin Schultz

With 2012 behind us, it’s time to take a look at what’s ahead for the Islanders in the upcoming year. We’ve got seven burning questions that need to be, or are likely to be, addressed in the coming 12 months. First up though is one question about the NHL:


#7 – Will there be a 2012-13 season?
The deadline for a new CBA has now been set at a little under two weeks from now on January 11th. Finally, mercifully, we’ll have either a resolution one way or another.

The way it seems, with both sides inching ever closer to one another, we’ll have a deal by then. Neither side is dumb enough to lose a season at this point (right? right?) and there’s too much money out there to be made from a partial season for them to continue to sit on their hands. Whether the league caves or the players do is a tough question to answer — my hunch is some sort but I think both sides know that not having a season is much worse than having a partial season, although a large amount of damage has already been done.

I think there will be hockey by the end of January. Whether or not fans come back is a whole other story.

#6 – What will the Isles do with Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky?
Let’s assume that we have a season that starts sometime in January; what happens to the Isles biggest pending unrestricted free agents in captain Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky? Will the team attempt to sign them or trade them?

For Visnovsky, I think it’s a pretty simple answer that, if the Islanders are out of contention, they’ll try and move him for whatever they can at the trade deadline. Judging by the fact that he filed a grievance over his trade to the Islanders, I think it’s safe to say he’s not thrilled about being here. Maybe he doesn’t hate it but, you know, the grievance wasn’t a great sign. Going by that logic, he’d be an awfully tough free agent to retain. If the team doesn’t feel they need him on the ice, get what you can for him and move on.

With Streit, things get a bit more complicated. He’s the team’s captain until further notice, and I’ve always said it’s tough to deal your captain especially when you’re a team like the Islanders where the national media will take any excuse to jump on you. Streit and the Islanders have been a good fit and while it’s clear that the captain has lost a couple of steps in recent years, he’s still a good defender who can contribute at the NHL level on a team that has had a less than stellar blue line in recent years (or would you like Mike Mottau re-signed?).

For the Islanders, Streit is an interesting case. There are a lot of young blue liners in Bridgeport and elsewhere in the system that could be here in a year or two. A two-year deal for Streit could make a lot of sense to at the very least bridge the gap between Streit and some of those kids. Or, if the team feels those kids are banging on the door right here and now, they could move Streit during the season with the hope of having a Matt Donovan or Aaron Ness fill in the gaps. For my money, I’ll take the 34-year old Streit on a new two-year deal but it’s definitely a complex situation.

#5 – Will Jack Capuano be the team’s coach in 2014?
When the going got tough in 2011-12, the heat on coach Jack Capuano got turned up. Not only that, but when hockey returns he’ll again be sharing the bench with the rumored coach in waiting in Doug Weight and Bridgeport stand-out Brent Thompson. Capuano doesn’t have his predecessor’s assistants on the bench with him anymore, but he also didn’t get to pick his current assistants. It’s an odd spot to be in and one worth watching in the new year.

#4 – Will the Islanders buyout Rick DiPietro?
One of the topics on everyone’s mind when it comes to the new CBA is the possibility of it containing an amnesty clause, which would allow teams to buy-out one player on their roster. Of course, due to his contract, the first name on Isles’ roster that comes to mind is Rick DiPietro. But would the team actually do it?

It makes sense. DiPietro has played 47 games in the last four seasons and gets injured quite often. His cap space, if available, could be used to fund other players on the roster or grab some free agents. His contract is also immense and the Islanders could save a little bit of money paying him off now (it’s assumed that these buyouts would payout less than the actual value of the contract).

But I’m not so sure it’s that simple. Under the currently expired CBA, the Islanders have quite a bit of cap room and aren’t desperate to get rid of his contract (maybe a new cap would be different). And if we’re talking simply about the amount of dollars the team spends, well, you’ll still be paying DiPietro to not play for the team. It would be a lump sum and a reduced rate of what is actually left on his contract, but this is a team that is supposedly losing $10 million per year playing at the Coliseum. Could they afford, or would they want to spend money on, a buyout on top of normal operation losses?

Furthermore, if the Islanders take DiPietro off the cap, they may still need to go sign someone else to reach the cap floor (or not, depending on how everything shakes out). Then things could end up sort of like the Brian Rolston situation, where Rolston’s $5 million hit was necessary to help the team reach the cap floor. What’s to keep the Islanders from holding onto DiPietro’s $4.5 million hit to reach the cap floor then, once the team is breaking even or in the black at the Barclays Center and they don’t need him to float the cap floor anymore, buying DiPietro out? Oh, and there’s the whole allegedly solid relationship DiPietro has with Charles Wang. So that’s a wildcard.

This one’s really complicated and probably a bit easier to figure out once we know if there’s an amnesty clause and, if there is one, what it looks like.

#3 – Are the Islanders going to start spending more money?
So, now that the Islanders have a deal to move into the Barclays for 25 years, will they start spending like a team that is going to have more cash coming in? I don’t think it will happen immediately, but think it will be a gradual push towards spending more money. The Islanders are still looking at about the same amount of money coming in until they actually get to Barclays. One thing they may want to do is spend a bit more now so that in 2015 when the team moves to Brooklyn, the team is a contender and capable of putting as many fans in as many seats as possible.

This is sort of what the Nets did leading up to their move to Brooklyn where the last couple years in New Jersey were bare-bones teams so they could make big free agent splashes right before coming to Brooklyn. The Nets created quite a buzz by signing Deron Williams and attempting to trade for Dwight Howard this past summer. I don’t think the Islanders should pare down to any kind of ‘bare bones’ team — they sort of are already not having made the playoffs since 2007 — but they need to make sure that all of these prospects they’ve drafted recently are ready to step up and play big roles in the coming years. And yeah, signing some big free agent(s) right before the move isn’t a bad idea either.

#2 – Will the Islanders make the playoffs?
In a shortened season, it’s going to be a crap-shoot for most teams to get into the playoffs. The NHL has had a lot of parity lately and with a shortened season, it allows for luck to play a bigger factor and gives the best and worst teams less of a chance to separate from the pack. The Islanders will certainly have a good chance to make the playoffs in a shortened season.

If we assume this season is cancelled and the team doesn’t take the ice until October, it gets a bit more complicated. The team could very easily lose the services of Visnovsky, Streit and Evgeni Nabokov to free agency, creating a few gaps that will have to be filled by younger players. The key to the Islanders in this scenario and the coming years is going to hinge on how effective players like Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter, Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, and many more are at the NHL level. If many of these draft picks turn into solid NHL players, the Islanders should have no problem competing for playoff spots year in and year out.

#1 – Are the Islanders going to buyout their lease at the Nassau Coliseum?
Well, we left the most nebulous question of all for last. The Islanders should be making more money in Brooklyn at the Barclays than they are now at the Coliseum. There’s no doubt about that. Whether or not the team thinks that sum is enough to off set the cost of paying off Nassau County to skip town early is a whole other question.

And yet another question is whether or not the lease can even be bought out. The cash strapped Nassau County might be interested in the proposition, but could it even be done? The Islanders’ lease at the Coliseum is said to be “iron-clad” and requires that every Islander home game be played at Nassau Coliseum through 2015, part of John Pickett’s 1985 re-negotiation of the lease.