[The Ryan Smyth trade is] the kind of situation Snow might be able to take advantage of next summer if he has cap room and a lot of other teams don't. That's another reason he might be reluctant to commit to any long-term deals for free agents now.
>>Greg Logan, On the Islanders Beat
Although making a run at a bigger-name UFA is fun to bandy about -- and I certainly welcome that sort of napkin sketching here, even if I ultimately think chasing an Alex Tanguay is the wrong move -- I take it as a given that the essence of this rebuild means few if any forays like that.
Mark Streit was different: On the rise, undervalued by the market, and likely to be just as effective in Year 5 of his deal (when the Islanders should be strong) as in Year 1 (when they were not. But boy, did he establish a high standard for himself). Streit helps today and tomorrow. I would classify Francois Beauchemin as a similarly smart buy who would fit and upgrade the defense long-term; Tanguay, on the other hand, leaves me thoroughly unmoved. (Food for thought: As I write this, I see Chris Botta has a post advocating both.)
With Tanguay, I'm reminded of when two years ago the St. Louis Blues, a team now a couple steps ahead in their rebuild, plunged for Paul Kariya for $18 million and three years. That was a top-dollar price for a guy who excited fans when the team wa scraping the bottom but -- granted, injuries are the wild card -- ultimately wasn't even a factor in that team's surprise playoff appearance this past season. The Islanders have Tavares to butts in the seats; adding the suddenly journeyman Tanguay -- who has never scored 30 goals and last reached 20 in 2006-07 -- wouldn't spice the product any further for me. [Update: For a different view, see the pro-Tanguay rebuttal in comments.]
But a conservative stance toward adding UFAs isn't born out of resignation. It's not simply throwing up one's hands to say, "Oh, we're not good now, we can't afford to make ourselves better, we just need to stink and take the high picks." Rather, because the Islanders simply cannot be contenders this year or next, it's a better use of minutes and payroll to let young players develop while maintaining cap flexibility for the time when the Islanders: 1) know more about the quality of those developing players, and 2) are thus better informed about what they need, and are in a better position to add the right pieces through free agency or through some other team's cap dump.
The benefit of building from within is not only giving your prospects room to develop -- it's giving them room to fail, too. Because in a few years when John Tavares is established, Josh Bailey is a legit 2nd-line center and Kyle Okposo is a hybrid power sniper, it will be critical for the organization to have an informed view whether, for example, Jesse Joensuu is an NHL forward. If and when the Islanders' core looks strong enough to make a run, it's going to be those decisions on the supporting cast that are pivotal.
Such decisions will be easier if now, when the team is not in contention, the cheaper depth candidates aren't blocked by a name free agent who gooses numbers today but weighs on their cap flexibility later.
Tomorrow: A look ahead at the Islanders depth chart through the next three years...