More than a few readers got a chuckle (at the writer’s expense) when I gave my Islanders’ free agency forecast on June 29 the sub-head:
“Taking his time, Cool Hand Snow will get his men”
I ended my piece with…
The Islanders will get the men they need in this market. My only advice: while some of the perceived best available free agents are coming off the board on July 1 and 2, stay cool. The season does not start for another three months. Whether it’s free agency or salary cap-relief trades, Snow has plenty of avenues to explore.
On the second-to-last day in July, Snow found an ideal man for his beleaguered defense corps in James Wisniewski, the former Duck and Blackhawk who hits, blocks shots, can produce 30-40 points on offense and will play like he cares.
On the last year of his contract, Wisniewski – and this should not be viewed as an insult – clearly believes he is a better player than Chicago and Anaheim thought he was. This is a very good thing; Wisniewski may well be right, and he came to the right place. Just as the Islanders provided Mark Streit with a chance to showcase his talents, Wisniewski is going to get every opportunity to prove he’s a $4 million defenseman as he enters his prime.
Everybody wins. By having Wisniewski for this season (and maybe many more), Snow also buys time to evaluate his prospect defensemen and allow them to develop properly.
Will James Wisniewski be the next great thing in Islanders Country? Probably not. No matter the circumstances, good hockey people like Bob Murray do not get in the habit of giving away brilliant players for third round picks. Wisniewski was not only offered to the Islanders. The Ducks were clearly not alone in believing he was not worth $3.2 million-plus. But was he the perfect get for the Islanders in their current climate? You better believe it.
Bravo, Mr. Snow. Bravo.
The general manager has acquired his difference-making defenseman in Wisniewski, who upgrades the current blueline lineup from poor to average. The question now is, can Snow complete a similar deal for a forward who can make the Islanders a legitimate contender for one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots?
Time to review the forwards.
As of August 2, with the signings of free agent Zenon Konopka and P. A. Parenteau, the Islanders appear to have the following eleven forwards set for the opening of the 2010-11 season:
1. John Tavares
2. Kyle Okposo
3. Matt Moulson
4. Josh Bailey
5. Frans Nielsen
6. Blake Comeau
7. Trent Hunter
8. Rob Schremp
9. Doug Weight
10. P. A. Parenteau
11. Zenon Konopka
Tavares, Okposo and Bailey are still on their Entry level contracts. Weight’s signing has yet to be finalized, but Snow is on record from late June saying the captain would be back. After agreeing to a one-year deal before an arbitration hearing, Moulson is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next July 1. Parenteau and Konopka are on one-way contracts.
The Islanders have one heavyweight forward on a one-year, two-way contract for the upcoming season:
Gillies should be with the big club for parts, if not the entirety, of the season. Snow is on record as saying he sees Gillies playing on the fourth line with Konopka.
The roster has a handful of prospects fighting for an NHL roster spot:
With eleven players fairly locked in, it will be a battle for the youngsters. While Martin will play in the NHL at some point this season, whether he makes the team out of camp will be a stiff challenge he’ll have to prove he’s ready for.
Most intriguing of all, the Islanders have a trio of high-end talents who could make a push in training camp:
At age 20, Petrov is the most ready. Scott Gordon’s glowing comments at prospect camp opened the door for Petrov starting the season with the Islanders (he needs to be signed to his ELC). If Niederreiter and Kabanov are not rushed into the NHL, they have to play junior hockey this season – Niederreiter in Portland (WHL) and Kabanov in Moncton (QMJHL). A return to junior is the smartest course of action for both, although you better believe the Islanders will give Niederreiter a long look. They put Josh Bailey directly into the NHL, and Niederreiter is a bigger boy.
The team also has some capable young forwards with varying roles who did not sparkle last year in Bridgeport, but should improve with more experience in the AHL and provide depth for the Islanders this season:
Of course, we must give a category of his own to…
Gone from the 26th-place Islanders of last season are Sean Bergenheim, Jeff Tambellini (signed with Vancouver), Richard Park and Jon Sim.
In that June 29 free agency preview on Point Blank, I wrote the following:
The Islanders’ shopping list is expected to include the following:
- One potential top-six forward
One reliable, experienced, rugged, penalty-killing, bottom-six foward
Not unexpectedly, the Islanders so far have only gone the “potential” route with that top-six forward. Pierre-Alexander Parenteau is 27 years old. In 29 career NHL games, he has three goals and six assists (3-5-8 in 22 games with the Rangers last season. He has hands, excels in the shootout and is a dynamo in the AHL. The Islanders hope he becomes their latest Moulson, not Tambellini. Parenteau got a one-year, one-way, $600,000 deal from Snow.
The bottom-six forward slot was filled by Konopka, who fights more often and slightly better than Nate Thompson, is better than him at faceoffs, is not as efficient a forechecker and scores about as often (they each had two goals in 70-plus games last season). Konopka comes from Tampa Bay, where Thompson was re-signed by Steve Yzerman.
It’s fun to note that the Islanders, who a year ago insisted they didn’t need players who primarily fought a lot, this summer signed Gillies, who averaged 3:24 of ice with the NYI last season, Jablonski, with one career NHL game at age 30, and Konopka, who averaged only eight minutes a game with the Lightning. All that said, there is no question Konopka will be a fan favorite this season.
From June 29:
Do not – repeat, do not – expect Garth Snow to have all of his shopping done by the Fourth of July. As he has wisely done in the past, Snow will wait as several good players slip through the cracks and begin to get nervous after the first ten days of July. For the kind of players Snow wants and needs out of this year’s crop, there is no rush.
Nothing has changed. While few quality scoring forwards remain in the free agent market, some will be available via trade. So far, Snow has passed on or missed out on deals for producers like Kris Versteeg, but there is still plenty of time to acquire his forward version of Wisniewski. The Islanders will be more than $15 million under the salary cap – and still have a little room to play with if they wish to stay close to the CBA-mandated salary cap floor.
Snow said his team’s failure to make the playoffs last season was a “disappointment” and his goal for 2010-11 was to qualify for the postseason. Even with the excellent addition of Wisniewski, the Islanders may still be asking Scott Gordon to be a Jack Adams finalist to get this lineup into the playoffs. The coach is capable, but why not give him a little more ammunition?
The Islanders need a top-six forward. The regular season is still two months away, and Snow continues to prove what he is capable of. The general manager shouldn’t stop now.
We’re inching towards our summer Point Blank hiatus, so let’s all finish strong.