Garth Snow & Free Agency

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You're the GM, what do you do?

You’re the GM, what do you do?

I had a few days to soak in and listen to Gary & Johns interview of Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and in particular, his view of this years upcoming free agency. Garth made it clear in his voice that he wasn’t impressed with the free agent pool and he shouldn’t be as free agency has turned from “buying your way to a Cup” to “What’s left in this scrap heap?” It’s true as teams are building through the draft, and signing their star players (like Tavares) to long term contracts leaving free agency with nothing but older, aging, AARP hockey players past their prime or AHL players who may not have NHL talent. There’s no doubt that Islanders fans are looking for another veteran defenseman, wanting to sign two veteran goaltenders and someone to play alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. I for the most part agree with their wish list, but there’s just one problem: Where are you putting them?

First off, the money side of things. Garth has continued to say since day one that he has zero restrictions when it comes to spending money. Many have a different opinion about that, but during the interview Gary and Garth came up with a decent early projection of the cap floor at being somewhere between 51-53 million dollars. The Islanders current cap payroll, according to capgeek.com is a little over 42 million. So Gary is correct when he stated the Islanders will be spending some money this summer. But if you look at who needs to be signed: Three goalies (Bridgeport needs one too): Halak, Poulin, and whoever the backup is, your restricted free agents Calvin de Haan, Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas and Matt Donovan you have at least 10 million dollars signed and the Isles are very close to the floor or at the cap floor. That’s the reason Halak and defensive prospects like Ville Pokka have not been signed yet because Garth and other GM’s are waiting to see what the exact cap floor will be, which I believe he said in another month so when the number does come out, Garth will pay his players and be at the cap floor by the beginning of free agency or before.

On defense, I think a string case can be made that Islanders top defensive prospect Reinhart will make this team out of camp, yet nothing is official. That’s 8 defenseman already on this team if you send Kevin Czuczman down to Bridgeport. Now please take note: Bridgeport is full of young defensive prospects right now, so there is no room for demotions. Yes Lubomir Visnovsky is injury prone, but as of now all signs point to him playing this season. Why does Garth go after another free agent defenseman when he’s at the cap floor, brings in his top defensive prospect and in my opinion adds a soon to be elite goalie, especially when this current squad made it to the playoffs two years ago? Unless Snow has someone in mind, trades need to be made, probably around the draft, if he thinks the club needs to improve more.  But until then, The Islanders have their defenseman.

The need for goalies, as stated before, will get done. I’ve said before, my dream three goalie scenario is to have Halak, Nabokov (or another experienced goalie) on the Isles with Poulin in Bridgeport. That should be enough depth to carry the team all season.

Now, as far as a line mate for John Tavares and Kyle Okposo goes, I state the question again: Where does this free agent go? The obvious answer by fans will be the top line. Okay, so then where do you put a player like Brock Nelson? Most fans would say at center. Okay again, then where would Ryan Strome play? Most people will tell you to ship Josh Bailey out anyway shape or form and move Strome to the right wing. Good try, but no. Anders Lee and Frans Nielsen had very good chemistry with Bailey and the Isles still believe in him while some fans believe Bailey will have a comeback year the way Kyle Okposo did this year, so I’m not sure the Isles will be moving him just yet. So again, like the defense, the Isles are full at the forward lines now. They already have 13 forwards on this squad, so unless you want to send Ryan Strome back to Bridgeport, trades need to be made again at the draft, before Garth can sign a free agent to join the top line.

I know many would like to see the Islanders spend above the cap floor by 20 million dollars, but the Islanders are already stocked with good young players ready to step into NHL roles now. If I’m one the fans who want spending, I would worry more about what happens at the draft then trying to proclaim that certain free agents must be signed on July 1st. Those free agents will be grossly overpaid and again if the Isles don’t make trades, there’s no room. If by July 1st the Isles are at the cap floor you can bet that Garth may say something to the effect of “Halak was the only free agent we were looking at and that’s why we wanted to get him early and singed, so we’re done with free agency. We are always looking to improve this team, and if we find the right deal, we will do it, but we feel comfortable with this current squad.”

Now, could Snow make a major splash at the draft? Of course, but moves like that don’t start until a week or so before the draft. So if you are an armchair GM between now and the draft and you must make trades for the sake of your own sanity, I would seriously start looking into the restricted free agency and come up with possible trades that might improve the club and discuss amongst your fellow fans. Remember the trend though, with the cap ceiling increasing as well, teams signing their players to long term contracts is the new norm. So if they resign with their respective teams, you have to go back to your white board and figure it all out all over again. Have fun with that.

PK (@Netminder39)