Hockey from the Blind Side, Evaluating After the Smoke Has Cleared

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Are the Isles done with off season moves yet? I guess that is now the question that still is being bandied about in parts of Islander Country. Paul addressed this topic in a recent post, and I fall into his camp as far as believing that the Islanders could be very well set for what they have for next season, yet, at the same time, there are assets that can be dangled for a trade for that top 4 D-man.

I have been reading a lot about the minicamp and I am left with a lot of positive feelings from everything that has been reported. Basically, the Islanders are rich with good prospects, and that is going to make for healthy competition and options for Garth Snow and Jack Capuano. It is a strength that should not be overlooked or under appreciated either, folks.

Once again, in some ways, it is the old “we have a bright future” principle at work. I get it. A few of my friends and family who are Isles fans are looking at the situation with a lot of cautious optimism at best. I can’t blame them for that after last season, but I personally feel that the Islanders are in great shape at this point in the summer.

The Islanders do have a lot to look forward to for training camp in September. Let us not diminish this fact, Isles fans. Sometimes, one does have to take the long view of things and remove some of the emotionality from ones perspective. Some were expecting more from Garth, and, perhaps, Mr. Snow is not done. Time will tell us if there is still one more move up the sleeve of our GM.So, let’s get to the “evaluating” part from my point of view. I was not able to catch any of the minicamp personally, so I am going to leave the talk of draft picks and prospects to others. I am going to take the position of what the Islanders have going into next season as far as who will be on the opening night roster.

Goaltending

OK, so Garth Snow soundly solved this issue. After the disappointing combined stats of last season’s goaltending trio, as far as I am concerned, the combination of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson will be a big improvement on that front. Add to that the signing of David Leggio, and there is some depth to add to Kevin Poulin between the pipes for the Islanders.

I certainly appreciate all that Evgeni Nabokov did for the Islanders over the last few seasons, and if he had signed as a backup, I would have been fine with that. However, Halak and Johnson give the Islanders and experienced duo, as well as two guys in their twenties. Both of them have had impressive stats, and one needs only to recall how well Halak did in the playoffs for the Canadians a few years ago to see the talent and potential there. Johnson, as far as I’m concerned, is a solid backup for a team that didn’t have that luxury last season.

Defense

I was certainly among the fans who wanted a Dan Boyle or a Matt Niskanen to be a part of the defense for the Islanders. That kind of experience and presence would certainly be helpful to the back line. However, at the same time, I have gotten accustom to the reality that too many guys simply do not want to sign with the Islanders. I would have preferred Niskanen over Boyle, and with some thought, it might have worked out best that Boyle didn’t sign here and now is property of the Rangers.

At the moment, though, I am fine with the depth the Islanders currently have. Ľubomír Višňovský, Thomas Hickey, Brian Strait, Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan, Matt Carkner, and Matt Donovan, now are joined by Scott Czuczman,Scott Mayfield, Griffin Rinehart,TJ Brennan, and others as serious depth for the defense. The addition of Brennan really does make things interesting, and will put some serious pressure on other guys who are wanting to be on the opening night roster. It also gives the Islanders another potential offensive defenseman as well to replace Andrew McDonald’s loss. Then, of course, Griffin Rinehart is certainly going to make a statement to earn a spot on the team, and based on how he’s played, that could very well be a real possibility.

Unless it is a trade that would bring someone who is a significant impact player on the blue line, I don’t really see the point of making a trade for a defenseman. The Islanders have the assets on defense that can make their blue line among the best in the NHL with some time and further development, and that isn’t, in my opinion, a bad thing. I know some folks want results now, and I certainly want that as well, yet having the kind of defense the Islanders have and its long term possibilities is something one has to consider for this team.

Offense

Again, one can lament about the guys that were on the “wish list” for Isles fans. Brad Richards and Michael Cammalleri were among some of the names that Islander fans wanted to see come here. Of course, though, they all went elsewhere. Again, folks, you cannot blame Garth Snow for this. Offers were made to many, and some, like Vanek, signed for less money in other places.

But, the Islanders still signed some players to add significant depth up front. Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Corey Conacher, were all added to the fold. These guys may not have been the “big names” some wanted to have come here, but let us not overlook the fact that the Islanders did add some offensive punch to the lineup. Grabovski and Kulemin came as a package, and you certainly have some goal potential for a good second line in them. I think Conacher could be the most intriguing of the signings based on how he looked playing in Tampa, and he could be a bit of a dark horse when training camp comes and decisions need to be made. Also, the added depth of NHL experienced forwards in Jack Skille and Harry Zolniercyk only helps the situation for the blue and orange.

Of course, you do still have the question of who will be on the left wing for John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Michael Dal Colle is probably a few years away from that potential, and it seems that Brock Nelson may be the guy who gets the first shot. He did look good on that line before JT’s injury, and I personally would think that could be a great top line. Considering how well Nelson played during the NHL season and then shined in the Worlds, he could be the solution to that “problem” for sure in October.

The reality is the Islanders, at the moment, have sixteen forwards under contract. This means that, indeed, choices will have to be made in September. Also, if there is a trade of some kind, it is reasonable to believe that the assets moved are going to come from the pool on offense. The question will be Who the Islanders feel are worth moving. Nevertheless, I think the depth on offense is just as advantageous as what the Isles have now on the blue line and in goal.

Blind Conclusions

With all of this said, I feel that the Islanders are in good shape at this point. Obviously, more can still happen by the time October 10 and their first game of the 2014-15 season occurs, but if nothing changes by then, I don’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing. Garth Snow, in my opinion, addressed the needs of the team, and despite it all not necessarily meeting the hopes and expectations of some fans, I think he did what needed to be done. Again, one cannot fault him for the guys who chose Not to play here, as many were offered more money than they signed for elsewhere.

When I then consider Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang and all of the prospects the Islanders have on defense who will be ready to play in the NHL, I find myself feeling pretty comfortable. A Stanley Cup may not come in 2015 for this team, but I feel lessons were learned and depth has been established where it is needed. That is what a general manager is supposed to do, and, again, Garth might not be done yet. Only time will tell …

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