Kevin Allen had his "top 30" free agents on the market this summer, which again put me in the roster tinkering mood. (Curiously, Allen's top 30 includes World Cup '96ers Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk -- but not Doug Weight.) With just a few meaningless games left for the Islanders, I can't help wondering as my bracelet instructs: What Will Garth Do?
Now, true, Garth Snow very recently said next season's team will look similar to this one's, which has gone a modest-yet-improved 8-6-5 since Feb. 21. But: 1) Garth rarely truly tips his hand, and 2) As ruminated earlier, the Islanders will have some payroll space to dole out. While inflationary raises to RFAs is one way to meet the cap floor, a splash for an astute long-term buy like Mark Streit would be just lovely.
But of the forwards on the market -- outside of the older stars who would never come here -- none make me feel very good about saying, "Sure, we'll give you $4 million. Come be our next Comrie." If a guy doesn't make sense on a three- or four-year deal, then the Islanders don't need to go there.
(One guy who's not exactly a star yet but is 4th on Allen's list, Johan Franzen would look great if Detroit can't fit him on their payroll. Yet he strikes me as the type who will draw an exaggerated deal if he hits the open market.)
On Allen's list, I only see two who might both make sense and are likely to at least return calls to join the Islanders' long-range Great Leap Forward. Both are defensemen, not forwards, with decidedly different profiles:
|2008-09 - Mike Komisarek||59||1||7||8||2||105||0||0||0||0||50||2.0|
|2008-09 - Jordan Leopold||76||7||14||21||-13||22||1||0||1||1||100||7.0|
The argument for Mike Komisarek, of course, is rooted first in his local roots. Woo him to be part of the revival back home, the thinking goes. Similar sentiment fuels the salivating for college free agent Matt Gilroy, who would also be a nice pickup who might nonetheless attract outlandish offers. Komisarek is rated third on Allen's list -- remarkable for a shutdown D with no offensive stats, yet an indication of the buzz surrounding him. Everyone knows he'd have to be in a charitable mind to make the move to this year's likely last-place club.
At the other end of the spectrum is Jordan Leopold (29th on Allen's list). A college star and 2002 Hobey Baker Award winner, Leopold's had an up-and-down NHL career, mostly due to a variety of injuries, which could reduce the number or generosity of his suitors. When healthy, he's a valued puck mover who you could see fitting Scott Gordon's system. Only one point (a goal) for him since the trade deadline move from Calgary to Colorado, but he was brought in to augment that Cup-hungry team.
Allocating Blueline Resources
Here's the question, though: In which direction is the Islanders blueline headed? (For argument's sake, pretend either of the above are attainable targets.) If Andy Sutton and Brendan Witt are still around, that's already $6.5 million toward "shutdown" D next season. Do you add to that figure with a big salary for Komisarek? Well, you certainly don't avoid signing Komisarek for the sake of those two. But Islanders management seems to love both existing Islanders and might make that argument to justify standing pat. Regardless, Sutton would come off the books after next season, Witt the year after that.
Then, regarding Leopold, do you bring in another "handsy" blueliner when you have Mark Streit ($4.1 million), plus existing bargains Bruno Gervais, Radek Martinek and (presumably) a re-signed Jack Hillen? (Oft-injured Freddy Meyer is also under contract for one more year.) Not to mention, most of the Islanders blueline prospects in the pipeline are of the smaller, offensive orientation.
Such is the dilemma the Islanders face: They already have a lot of "oh, he's a nice bargain" guys for blueline depth. But half have been injured -- a lot -- and none make you feel good as #2 or even #3 defensemen. If we're talking ourselves into the status quo, we're talking ourselves into another year of pain. I don't want pain. I want hope. Yet to upgrade the blueline would require cutting bait with some loyal soldiers and fan (and management) favorites. I'm not sensing Snow is ready to do that.
The Year of Laughter and Forgetting is Over
With a top-three pick, a healthier roster [crosses fingers] overall, and a prescient free agent signing, it's possible for the Islanders to move into playoff bubble territory next season, where March games at least have meaning. While we'll concede this year's ground zero/rebuild/tanking nature, I believe significant progress -- not just "let the kids grow some more" -- should be the goal for Year Two. That doesn't happen solely by relying on development within.
I've been a patient, fanatical advocate of the necessity of how this season has played out. One long rip of the bandage from the flesh, I've called it. And yet: Turnarounds must happen quickly in the parity-lovin', low-age UFA-in', new NHL. We know big free agent scores are yet impossible without "contending" status or at least a new building. And we know undervalued gems like Streit are rare. But if Snow isn't sincerely kicking tires to upgrade what he has this summer, I'll be disappointed.