The NHL free agent "silly season" has actually already begun, with swapping of big ticket players (Brian Campbell to the Tallon show) and small ticket players given big tickets (four years and $12 million from Tallon to Tomas Kopecky), and big ticket players passed around for courting (Christian Ehrhoff, who is now feverishly Googling "places to find schnitzel in Buffalo").
The Islanders have played their own 20-hour part in the silliness, and Newsday reports Garth Snow is still pursuing a "top four" addition either on the market or via trade. So expect the unexpected.
But here is a modest proposal for what Snow should and shouldn't be doing as the insanity known as free agency commences at noon July 1.
Note: This is an expansion of what I shared with SB Nation New York Thursday afternoon.
State of the Island
Looking at the depth charts at forward and defense, the New York Islanders ostensibly don't have much work to do on July 1 when the 2011 NHL free agency period begins. They have enough NHL contracts for a full blueline, and enough forwards competing for top 9 jobs that the only glaring hole is a defensive faceoff specialist to replace Zenon Konopka, who will not be re-signed.
That said, they could handle upgrades at any position outside of goaltender, where they could use an upgrade but there is already a crowd of contracts and prospects.
Why We're Here
The Islanders have let defensemen Radek Martinek and Jack Hillen walk, while young pups Calvin De Haan (likely) and Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness (certainly) will need plenty of time to develop at AHL Bridgeport. Mark Katic and Dylan Reese are depth guys. Ty Wishart showed promise of being an important addition late last year, but in the parlance of our times: Sample size is small.
Meanwhile, at forward Zenon Konopka is also walking free. Fighting is the least of the Islanders' concerns in terms of how to replace him; rather, they need to replace his faceoff dependability -- ideally with someone who can also keep other teams in check.
What We're Gonna Do About It
Garth Snow's attempt to preemptively sign Christian Ehrhoff shows he recognizes the blueline needs more depth, and ideally an offensive upgrade. The Islanders have seven returning NHL blueliners (if you count one of Wishart or Katic as likely NHLers) plus several prospects headed to Bridgeport who might push for NHL time, led by Calvin de Haan. However, there are several injury caveats: Mark Eaton, Andrew MacDonald and Mike Mottau are all returning from hip surgery. Mark Streit is returning from serious shoulder surgery that wiped out his entire 2010-11. That's a lot of "ifs" with which to start the season.
While the Islanders are unlikely to target James Wisniewski or Tomas Kaberle, they should kick the tires on New Jersey's Andy Greene, or even Calgary's Anton Babchuk if they're interested in an Ehrhoff-lite, offensive-oriented defenseman. Failing these, they could also try to bring back Hillen or Martinek, who were both allowed to reach July 1 unsigned.
The Islanders' underrated offense ranked 15th in the league last year, featuring two 30-goal scorers and five 20-goal scorers in all. Any deficiencies are due more to the merry-go-round of defensemen who had varying success feeding the forwards. While a real top six wing would be nice -- or someone to make Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau tick, perhaps? -- they aren't really out there, and the Islanders believe in their young forwards, which might also include Nino Niederreiter.
Still, they need a bottom six upgrade. The decision to let Konopka walks makes sense only if they acquire a better version. Konopka is great at faceoffs and great at rallying the troops, but his three-zone play isn't great and suffers when hampered by weak fourth-line wingers. Micheal Haley might default into that role, but they should let him develop at wing and try an experienced defensive pivot.
If they wanted to add a physical wing, maybe an Erik Cole gives you some physicality and dependability with scoring punch. For scoring punch Injury-prone Simon Gagne, one of the few scoring wings out there, is out of the equation unless the Isles want to throw a ton of money out there on a one-year deal. Likewise Tomas Fleischmann opened eyes in Colorado but his health is a serious question mark.
Ex-Isle Sean Bergenheim is another "been there" guy who -- are you sitting down? This will shock you -- wants more money than Tampa Bay is willing to give. Joel Ward is a really useful forward who would make a great story, but he wants to stay in Nashville and if he hit the open market he'd probably command a double-inflated price thanks to all those small-sample playoff goals. Anthony Stewart is interesting, having been left unqualified by Atlantapeg.
How This is Going to End
Bottom line, UFA is a seller's market and it seems to tilt in the players' favor more and more each summer. Teams are simply locking up their most important players before they hit the UFA market, so everyone left has question marks.
That's why Snow targeted Ehrhoff early, and that's why his interest in a trade might be legit. But expect an unrestricted free agent or two to be added -- just don't expect it to be a sexy name, and don't count on it being sealed and delivered on Friday.
If you're playing along at home or office, remember to use your handy NHL Fan Summer Wishlist Template. It's FDA approved and rant-friendly.