Contrary to what Scott Gordon – and by extension, Garth Snow – might say and maybe even truly believe, there isn’t anything standing in the way if the winless Islanders ever choose to tinker with their roster.
What’s the worst-case scenario – the Islanders lose one of their many non-scoring forwards or third-pair defensemen on waivers, and that player thrives somewhere else? Really now.
The Islanders must 1. Determine if a player has had enough fair chances to show what he can do, 2. Decide whether he has the tools and mindset to excel under Gordon, 3. Be bold and decisive and 4. Understand that if, heaven forbid, a released or waived player went on to fame and fortune elsewhere, management can say they did the best they could.
On Tuesday, the coach spoke of the unplanned-for emergence of Matt Moulson as a top-9 forward and acquisition of Rob Schremp on waivers causing a logjam at left wing. Gordon was right in saying those were/are/could be happy surprises. But let’s keep it real: neither are planet-shifting additions to a franchise hoping to become a consistent contender sometime in the next decade.
The Islanders currently have three – yup, three – rock-solid pieces to the program. They are John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit. They have a few other strong prospects like Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic and Mikko Koskinen, but they are between one and three years away before potentially making an impact. As for a few other skilled youngsters such as Josh Bailey (20) and Frans Nielsen (25), they have more time to show what they can do at this level. Trent Hunter is also not going anywhere. They are not part of this equation.
Let’s take a hard look at several current Islanders and the chances of at least one of the other 29 NHL teams grabbing them on waivers if given the chance. Remember something: of course, a few teams would take a Brendan Witt or a Radek Martinek on their team, but it’s not as simple as making a waiver claim. A roster spot has to be available, a salary – in a league where many teams are against the cap – has to be paid.
This may not be pleasant, but it is realistic.
Andy Sutton - 0% chance of being picked up on waivers right now. Sutton is coming off an injury-filled season and makes $3 million this season. If he improves, there could be some interest in him – for a mid-round pick or on waivers – in late February. Before then, not a chance.
Brendan Witt – 0% chance. $3 million this season, plus $3 million next.
Radek Martinek – 10% chance. Highly unlikely, not when he’s making $1.4 this year and $1.9 next season. Another team would have to have a strong belief in his game and the utmost confidence they can help keep him healthy.
Freddy Meyer – 5% chance. After bouncing around the waiver wire, FMIV is on a one-way contract for this season and next season. Although the compensation isn’t a crusher (575,000 and 600,000), there won’t be a line around the block to add a 6-7 defenseman on a one-way deal.
Bruno Gervais – 25% chance. On a one-way contract – 800 this year, 900 next. Not off to a good start this season, but teams like his right-hand shot, mobility and reputation as a low-maintenance fifth defenseman.
Jon Sim – 0% chance. Already cleared last season. Has this year left at $1 million. Like Sutton, could be picked up closer to the trade deadline.
Sean Bergenheim – 100% chance. Retains the crown of the current young Islander most likely to succeed elsewhere if it doesn’t work out for him here.
Richard Park – 25%. Irrelevant because he’s staying for now. On last year of his deal paying him $800,000. Islanders will have to make a decision on him around the trade deadline. Park might also have his own thoughts.
Tim Jackman – 3% chance. Islanders gave him a one-way for this season ($550,000). A scout at the Garden on Monday night was asking me about him. “I really like him as a fourth-liner,” he said. “My boss (the director of player personnel) disagrees.”
Jeff Tambellini – 10%. At some point in the next month, the Islanders need to make a firm decision and stand by it. If they Schremp him, as Edmonton did, all they need to do is wish him well and not look back.
Nate Thompson – 5% chance. On a two-way deal. Likely will be in the organization all year and maybe beyond. As long as he improves, he can be Gordon’s kind of player. Coach’s prerogative.
Blake Comeau – 50% chance. Second to Bergenheim on the list of players other teams think they could mold.
It should also be noted that the Islanders are a smidge over the salary cap floor and about a Lighthouse Project 20-story building under the salary cap.
No one is suggesting the Islanders give up on this season. No one is advocating placing a half-dozen players on waivers, getting them to Bridgeport – or losing them – and making a massive recall of Trevor Smith, Jesse Joensuu, Matt Martin and Andrew McDonald from the Sound Tigers. Let’s face it: Bridgeport is not exactly a who’s who of The Hockey News Future Watch issue. On the other hand, with the exception of Bergenheim and Comeau on the list above, there isn’t a single player the Islanders could lose on waivers that would cause the Country to toss and turn in its sleep.
What I am saying is that it’s completely disingenous of Snow and Gordon to say all these one-way contracts are getting in the way of fielding whatever 20-man lineup they’d like. It’s either that, or they may simply just be wrong. If the Flyers can waive a good defenseman like Randy Jones to get under the salary cap, a bad team like the Islanders can use the Collective Bargaining Agreement to get better – or at least field a lineup more representative of a rebuilding franchise that’s willing to experiment.
Read the CBA. Make determinations on your players. Move on.
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