For the Islanders: Now what? [weekend free agency thread]

"In a fast July 1, I'm amazed that I survived / The waiver wire saved my life."

~not really Radihoead's "Airbag"

The big fish are gone. The Islanders "offered the Moon" to Paul Martin according Puck Daddy, and he didn't bite. Pavel Kubina returned to Tampa Bay this morning, where he'd played for 8 seasons and which he told Pierre LeBrun is "my second home." Ironically, Kubina's two-year deal was the kind I most hoped for among the UFA defensemen out there. Would have been a perfect bridge to the promising blueliners many of us worry will debut as Islanders a little too soon. But as Dan Hamhuis showed yesterday and Kubina showed today, home is home. So it goes.

Fan reactions to the Islanders coming up empty on yesterday's spending bonanza fall in three four camps:

  • Camp Distraught: Sky IS FALLING. HOW could they not land ANYone?
  • Camp Resigned: This is not surprising. The Isles never get the shiny toys and won't until they have a better record and a certain location in 2015. Why aren't you used to it by now?
  • Camp Stay The Course: What's the big deal? We're rebuilding here. Patience is still the first ingredient. The five-year (and SIX for A-Train) deals handed out yesterday were typical July 1 silliness.
  • Bonus Camp - Camp Vodka: Dude, it's hockey. We watch, we hope, we fall short, we debate, we wait for Snow's stealth moves, we drink. So it goes.

We will have other topics up through the holiday weekend, but consider this post your weekend long free agency (and the usual OT lunacy) thread, for the Isles and the league. The looming question for Garth Snow and the gang is, having missed out on the fancy names and having plenty of room under the cap floor to spend, who are the remaining targets to hone in on?

Some facts as we know them as of this posting (1 p.m. Friday):

Defense UFAs (or "defence" for you Canucks)

Andy Sutton is still out there and, as should any free agent, told Chris Botta he'd love to come back. Willie Mitchell (great defenseman but huge concussion concern) and Joe Corvo (okay defenseman but huge defensive concern) are still out there. Mike Weaver is a very effective PK defenseman but that is the limit of his game. Carlo Colaiacovo is a "tweener" defenseman who can move the puck, hit a little, and share IR time with Martinek. Penguins depth guys Jay McKee and Mark Eaton are also out there but hardly inspiring.

On the heavy-contract, heavy-baggage market, Sheldon Souray is on waivers. He still has a cannon, but a broken wrist and a concussion wrecked his season. He's a malcontent in Edmonton (the feeling is mutual), and many fans there say the injuries robbed him of mobility and physicality. There is not one, but two years left on his deal at $5.4 million (cap hit per season) and $4.5 million (actual salary). He doesn't want to come East (but may not have a choice).

Oh, and what else? Souray's is a cautionary tale about the contracts signed yesterday: Some of those deals will work out fantastically, but it's a good bet at least one of those guys will run into body breakdown the same way Shouray has. Getting old ain't fun. (For the body, at least; it does have its perks though, kids.)

 

Forward UFAs

With the big fish not named Ilya being on defense, that drew most of the focus yesterday. There are plenty of forwards still available, and they all have baggage. Would you fancy any of these in an NYI uniform: Matthew Lombardi (center), Alexander Frolov (yes but so unlikely), Maxim Afinogenov (consistency much?), Marek Svatos (same), Alex Ponikarovsky (same), and the Grumpy Old Men Trio: Paul Kariya, Bill Guerin, Owen Nolan.

Not much there. In the lesser-name, smarter-fit crew you have Raffi Torres, Arron Asham and Jeff Halpern for the bottom lines. Skeptics will shout that the first two are retreads and the third is washed up, but the Islanders need some checking forwards; are you saying you want Jon Sim back instead? John Madden is also out there, but this is not your Devil's John Madden.

 

The Big Picture

What happens when there are no scores nor perfect fits on July 1? You have to table your dreams of the instant upgrade -- a big name sure would have steadied the Islanders' blueline depth -- and start picking small pieces here and there.

But you have to have confidence they are the right pieces, lest you just make a lateral move. That's the big challenge for Snow right now: Some of those existing NHL D would be upgrades over last year's group, but will they fit in? Personally, I want depth -- NHL-level depth -- on the blueline which inevitably will face injury trouble. But how much do you think guys like Jack Hillen, Andrew MacDonald, maybe even Dylan Reese step forward enough that it's not as big of a problem as you once feared? What if Travis Hamonic is ready to make the leap by midseason? What if another Andrew MacDonald-type revelation emerges? As with any rebuild, there is a bit of faith and uncertainty involved with how much you will improve "from within." As with any "from within" improvement, progress will likely come in patience-testing fits and starts.

Which brings me to the current goal for next season: Garth Snow and Scott Gordon talked about a concerted playoff push, and that is well and good and proper. The Isles were within striking distance in a weak East most of the season. But three of the teams they play 6 times a year all got better yesterday. For the Islanders, game to game you must aim high, but the realistic overarching goal may be to improve enough that come next July 1, more players find what's going on here as something to bet the next four-five years of their career on.

*  *  *

Most fascinating non-Islanders subplot: Who in this continent -- outside of the players and agents themselves -- is surprised to see Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco struggling to find starting gigs? Goalies, your market has changed, perhaps forever. Best you learn and adapt.

Thread away. But if you're bolting for the weekend, have a great, fun, safe one. Thanks for reading, opining and entertaining.

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