"The three of us probably led the team in being snakebit, as far as creating chances but hitting posts, not getting the bounces to show for it."
>>David Backes, discussing his Team USA linemates Kyle Okposo and TJ Oshie on St. Louis sports radio (KFNS 590AM) this week
I'm paraphrasing the radio interview a bit, but Backes -- who became a 30-goal scorer and team leader for the Blues this year -- had positive things to say about Okposo's play at the World Championships. Backes also said Okposo has a similar approach to he and Oshie, another Blue: Get it in the zone, bang around, make it hard on the opposition, win the puck, and get it on goal.
It's no stretch to say Backes and Oshie were the two biggest fan favorites in St. Louis this year because of their mix of skill, effort and physicality (You might recall Oshie's undressing of four Canucks winning Goal of the Year in a fan vote). So as mentioned at the tourney's end, it's nice to see Okposo -- the youngest of the three linemates in the just-finished tournament -- fitting right in with them and even receiving player of the game for Team USA in the semifinal loss to Russia. While Backes is more of a banger, I couldn't tell you whether Oshie or Okposo is more talented right now -- and that's a good thing.
The Draft, Always the Draft
Speaking of Okposo: It came up in the irreplaceable Greg Logan's recent chat that, with Okposo "already in the fold," should the Islanders really pass up Hedman for Tavares? I've frequently used this space to explore the philosophy of building from the back with a guy like Hedman, but let me just add this: While Okposo is a budding talent, you can't build an offense around just one guy like him. You need multiple dangerous weapons. Sitting on Okposo would be like sitting on Mark Streit as your lone elite blueliner. Streit is a great starting point, but the Islanders need more, at both ends of the ice.
On that note, I must admit that watching Sidney Crosby around the net in the Capitals series made me salivate for a guy with lacrosse-like hands such as his, which Tavares is said to possess. Caveat: The Caps 'D' was guilty of letting Crosby live rent-free on many occasions, and Crosby's strength and stability on his skates is something he has over just about every other player in the world. But still, dirty goals are pretty goals come playoff time.
For more fresh reflection on the draft decision(s) -- and toying with Brian Burke and other suitors -- check out B.D.'s latest post at Islanders Independent. Chris Botta also had six "big and skilled" forwards the Islanders could target with their basket of late-first/early-second round picks.
The Goaltending Situation
As pleaded by Isles fans everywhere, the Islanders better act like Rick DiPietro might not play a full season (if at all) next year, even if they expect him on skates by August. That means signing a legit starting candidate and a strong backup. While the club has been typically cryptic Logan said he detects "an undercurrent of concern," meaning they are taking the situation seriously. I've always been a fan of making a run at Florida's UFA Craig Anderson, and Logan is indeed "fairly certain" Anderson is at the top of the club's list. Whether that's a simple rating of what's available or a sign of earnest intent remains to be seen.
Either way, it's nice to see they have real intent. On that note, Logan speculated that Yann Danis would be in the mix if he accepted a two-way deal. While Danis had a great stretch this year and ended up much better than Joey MacDonald, I think he'd be wise to consider that. Not many one-way offers will come forth for a late-developer whose career highlight is a hot month-plus on a 30th place team.
Islanders Free Agents
Our old hypothetical roster matrix needs an update (particularly Weight's new salary ... Serious updates to come after the draft, when free agency gets cooking), but it's worth noting that Logan sees Andy Hilbert, a UFA who I left off that matrix, as only a maybe: "They've always liked him, but he could be on the fence. We'll see."
It's not that Hilbert isn't valuable -- particularly on an underskilled team that needs defensively reliable guys to help squeeze out wins. It's just that they have several grinder types (and might even see Jeff Tambellini evolving into a hybrid of that role), and there isn't a lot of room for veteran forwards if the Islanders add a forward with the #1 pick and if the current signed players and prospects are healthy. Hilbert is the kind of serviceman who could draw a low-salary, high-competition offer from a contending team, and might be wise to take it.
As argued in yesterday's post, I'd really like the Islanders to upgrade the blueline through free agency, but Logan seemed to doubt that possibility in the forementioned chat. I just don't see the blueline, even if healthy, as something to be appeased with -- particularly not with the demand Gordon's system puts on mobility and smart, quick decisions and the fact Andy Sutton and Radek Martinek cannot seem to play a full season. "We'll see" indeed.
Outside of the Lighthouse Project, from which I need a brief mental break, those are the burning issues of the offseason and where I see them at this point. I'm heading for a weekend walk in the woods (but should have new content up Saturday). I know there are other issues I've missed: Leave those or other opinions in comments.