MAGNIFICENT SPRING, JOYFUL SUMMER?Grabner, KO signings start an exciting offseason

11:00 am: When a management team sets forth on a plan and nails it, really knocks it out of the park with a combination of earnestness and ingenuity, it can occasionally be as exciting as a spectacular moment on the playing surface. Such was the case with the Islanders’ back-to-back signings of Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo, and there could be more to come.

The pair of five-year contracts were wise moves on the most basic terms: value and cost. Grabner’s averages $3 million over the next five years, Okposo $2.8 million. If the downright sanity of the deals is not apparent now, it will be when dozens of restricted free agent forwards across the NHL ink get re-signed over the next three months.

Then, naturally, there are what some general managers like to call the optics:

1. The Islanders have sent a clear message that they will try to keep their nucleus of young talent together, and beyond their opening years of unrestricted free agency.

2. Grabner and Okposo, who could just as easily insisted on going short-term with their second contracts, proved that their commitment to the Islanders and this region was more than just talk.

3. As respected talents and well-regarded men among their peers, Grabner and Okposo sent another important message. If the franchise is good enough for them to sign for five years, perhaps other members of the players’ union will take notice.

4. At a time when the franchise needs good vibrations to carry them during the pursuit of a new arena in Nassau, locking up two essential and highly popular players goes a long way.

5. In terms of real dollars, the payouts for Grabner and Okposo in the first three years of their deals are such bargains, the Islanders will have the money to spend to improve the lineup.

On the other hand, no one has to send thank-you cards to the players. While there has been some talk of Grabner and Okposo sacrificing, make no mistake: these contracts benefit all parties. After an electrifying three-quarters of just one season, Grabner received a commitment of $15 million guaranteed. Okposo, who would be the first to tell you he has yet to have his true breakout season, will have $14 million in the bank. They committed to what they thought was right, and they were well rewarded for it. Five years from now, neither is going to have any regrets.

Why are the contracts so heavily front-loaded? Because well before the end of them, when Grabner gets $5 million and Okposo $4.5 million in 2015-16, Charles Wang is going to know if the Islanders are in Nassau to stay. He’ll know if the rebuild created a consistent contender. He’ll know if the time has come to walk away and either sell the team to a new rainmaker (or exorcist), or – in his worst-case scenario – tell the league he has nowhere else to go. (See: Atlanta this week and Phoenix one year from now).

But as this stage, there is little cause for alarm. The arena drama will play out, much of it out of Wang and the Islanders’ control while NIFA fiddles and the legislature burns.

As of one week ago, there had yet to be any formal discussions regarding a second contract for franchise center John Tavares, whose Entry Level deal does not expire until next summer. In the end, both parties may amicably come to the understanding that finalizing a long-term commitment for Tavares should wait a year. Still, you can be sure that agent Pat Brisson is hearing from the Islanders because locking up Tavares before the arena referendum would be the ultimate accomplishment. Perhaps if the Islanders finalize an approved deal with Nassau in the fall and get a shovel in the ground, Tavares will go very-long-term next summer.

For now, it’s nothing but admiration and respect for Garth Snow and his execution of a pair of contracts in which everyone wins. If you see longtime CFO Art McCarthy on the concourse in October, you might want to give him a pat on the back, too. As the team’s unofficial capologist, McCarthy worked with Snow, Wang and a few other executives on the unique nature of the deals.

They won’t stop at Grabner and Okposo, either. Snow knows he needs at least one Michael Peca type to steady the young core at forward, and he is determined to add that piece this summer via trade or free agency. Defense, where the Islanders have a “full” lineup of defensemen already under contract, may be a different story. Snow may feel otherwise, but he must add one solid player to the blueline, preferably one with experience, toughness and strength.

There is still a lot of work to be done over the next few months. More pieces have to be put in place if the Islanders are going to be one of those ten teams in the East that get to 8-10 games over NHL .500 well before Christmas and then fight for a playoff berth. In the long offseason, time is on their side. They also have the resources, the assets and the cap space. The easiest trap for a manager or a fan to slide into is the one where they fall in love with their team in June.

But so far, so good. We haven’t even reached summer yet and Snow has had a splendid start to the offseason.

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A Note to our Readers: After a non-stop spring, a combination of professional and family issues may, at times, result in temporary absences from the blog over the summer. I do not expect any lengthy hiatuses. However, I did want to bring this to your attention in case more Islanders news breaks and you’re wondering when I’m going to get back from the beach. I won’t be there.

Kevin Schultz will chip in when his job allows (thank you, Kevin), and I will cover the draft, roster changes and (most importantly) the arena issue daily – whenever possible – until and past the referendum date of Aug. 1. There are plenty more SNY interviews and Islanders Interactives in the works and there is always lots to cover. Hopefully, I’ll be here so much that you won’t notice the gaps. But I felt I owed the loyal Point Blank readers an explanation in advance should I be away from the laptop. If this happens, I will certainly post and opine on Twitter to the best of my capability from my Blackberry.

Thanks for sticking around during an entertaining offseason so far, with so much more to come. I am indebted to all of you. Always feel free to email me at cb@islanderspointblank.com if you’d like to discuss anything one-on-one. Thank you and enjoy the summer…CB

Comments on this column, and your projections for summer acquisitions and the Islanders in 2011-12, are encouraged.

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