Snow Storms: Evaluating The GM's Moves For The Islanders
The Islanders were very busy at the start of an off-season that forecasted a flurry of movement from GM Garth Snow. On the agenda was signing a number-one goaltender and top-six forward, both of which took place on July 5th. A few other moves were made to help keep the core intact for many years to come, as well as removing another bad apple from the organization (Photo Credit: Official New York Islanders/Flickr).
After signing forward Peter Regin to what is seemingly a depth signing, the Isles quickly looked to fill the void left in the crease.
The Isles were reportedly interested in goaltender Ray Emery, who ended up signing a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. This forced Snow to return to his original choice for the crease and sign Evgeni Nabokov to another one-year deal at $3.25 million.
There's no question that Nabby is the only other player that could have given John Tavares a run for his money as last year's team MVP during the regular season, but his playoff performance had many concerned about his ability to retain the starting position next year. It's possible that Snow may be still searching for another veteran goaltender to play with Nabokov, but early indications imply that Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson will have the opportunity to battle it out for the back-up position behind Nabokov.
This move allows these two young goaltenders to get the time that they need to develop in the NHL. Both have spent a few years with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with only a few starts with the big club. The coaching staff might want to consider playing Nabokov only about 60 games or so, allowing Poulin or Nilsson to play the other 22 if not more.
It's obvious that Nabokov is not the "goalie of the future," but rather the goalie for "just right now" at the ripe age of 38 (he turns 38 on July 25th). Allowing two goaltenders who are in their early twenties to earn those NHL minutes is crucial for the future success of this team.
And there's always the opportunity for Snow to trade for a veteran back-up at the trade deadline if the Islanders are in playoff contention. They saw firsthand with the Pittsburgh Penguins how valuable a 1A goalie was in Tomas Vokoun when Marc-Andre Fleury began to struggle. Having someone like that behind Nabokov during the playoffs would be a welcomed addition.
Snow then continued with his hail storm of moves and signed forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard to a one-year, $2 million contract. Bouchard was a player that I suspected the Isles might aim for if they failed to sign some of the other big names. He is a speedy play-maker who has put over 60 points and 50 assists in his career with the Minnesota Wild and is an offensive improvement over Brad Boyes (Mark Bloom44/Flickr).
The only concern is that he has been called a soft player and has struggled with concussion issues over the past few years. However, last year was a healthy one, only missing five games of the 48-game season. Having the opportunity to play on the wing with John Tavares and Matt Moulson should only boost his offensive contributions while also supplying chemistry on the top line (although don't be surprised to see Ryan Strome earn himself a look on the top line during training camp).
What might arguably be the best signing done by Garth Snow was locking up defenseman Travis Hamonic for the next seven seasons. Hamonic proved how valuable he is to the Islanders when given the assignment of battling Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby every night in the Isles' first round playoff match-up with the Penguins. His physical, tenacious play stood out during each game, and he has become one of the team's strongest defensive minded blue liners.
And with all of that aside, he is an excellent character player and influential leader in the Isles dressing room. Simply put, the kid loves hockey and is committed to doing what he can to help this team thrive.
Another move that may end up turning in major dividends despite being heavily criticized was Snow's trade of Nino Niederreiter to the Wild in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a draft pick. Clutterbuck was the NHL's hits leader before Matt Martin took over the title the past two years. He also can provide offense and is a player that many Western Conference teams are grateful for not having to face on a weekly basis.
Clutterbuck may play on the fourth line next to Casey Cizikas and Martin, making the three of them arguably the fiercest checking line in the league; and each one of them can play offense as opposed to just banging bodies into the wall.
Don't forget that Colin McDonald, who was locked up with a two-year contract extension mid-season, was among the Isles hits leaders this past year as well.
And then there is Eric Boulton, who despite likely being a healthy scratch most nights, will be ready to fill in whenever one of these guys aren't ready to go.
Adding Clutterbuck's physical play to an already offensively talented group of grinders will make the Islanders one of the toughest teams to play against. Being that the Isles are typically successful when their work ethic overpowers their opponents, this group will only make that a stronger threat each night while also making teams second guess themselves if they decide to take a run at John Tavares.
The only issue remaining in the middle of Snow's storm is what will happen with RFA Josh Bailey, who recently filed for salary arbitration. Whether this is over a difference of dollars or years is unknown, but the Islanders still have time to finalize a contract with the former first round draft pick before his hearing (which has yet to be given a date).
Bailey proved that he can be a very valuable forward when playing on the wing, like he did much of last season. The question with him has always been around his ability to maintain consistency. With Strome and Brock Nelson looking better every day, Bailey may become expendable if he can't keep up his strong play each night over the course of an 82 game season.
Bailey will likely be with the Islanders next season, whether his contract is decided by an arbitrator or agreed between both sides. The real question is for how long.
Other impending RFA Thomas Hickey is expected to sign a contract extension in the near future as well. Hickey will round out a defense of Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Carkner and Brian Strait with Matt Donovan poised to take the vacated spot left by Mark Streit.
It is possible the Islanders might sign Radek Martinek as a depth defenseman, but there is plenty of young talent emerging through the depth charts that may make him expendable. Snow has also decided to let go of Marty Reasoner, Keith Aucoin (who signed with St. Louis), Boyes, Jesse Joensuu (who signed with the Edmonton Oilers), Tim Thomas and of course, the recently bought out Rick DiPietro.
The Snow storm that the Isles GM concocted at the start of this off-season has been a great one: players that were dead weight or displaying issues with management were removed from the equation; reliable sources were found to fill the gaps that were left at the end of last season; core pieces were locked up for many years to come; the team got a whole lot tougher, and there is still room for developing prospects to earn NHL roster spots.
And there's always the possibility that this storm isn't over just yet.