Ones Who Walk Away: Islanders Free Agent/Rental Exits in the Snow Era

Looking at the post-Islanders trajectory of Andy Sutton and Freddy Meyer, and the Tallonacious financial windfall that blessed Sean Bergenheim mid-honeymoon, we're getting a better picture of how the Islanders under Garth Snow are approaching pending free agents.

In the cap era, you want to buy low, sell high -- but perhaps as importantly, you want to avoid buying high for long term, which can tie yourself to expensive commitments that erode your future flexibility. That affects restricted free agents, too -- as their second and third contracts are right where their asking price goes up from "bargain" ELC rates to "Danger: Proceed with caution" RFA raises.

Over the past few summer free agency periods and spring trade deadlines, the Islanders have steadfastly avoided lengthy extensions to older pending unrestricted free agents. Meanwhile, RFAs who were deemed unworthy of "core" status have been allowed to leave. Older UFAs like Andy Sutton and Dwayne Roloson were flipped for parts, others like Radek Martinek and Zenon Konopka were allowed to walk after not fetching a satisfying return on the rental market, and RFAs like Bergenheim and Jack Hillen have been left unqualified, making them UFAs.

Several of these decisions were reasonably debated at the time. Sutton and Freddy Meyer had good seasons in their final stints as Islanders. But for the most part, the post-Islanders path of these players -- whether via decline or giant raises -- has shown their release to be solid decisions.

Player Role/Context Departure Postscript
Chris Campoli Homegrown, 4/5 D with higher view of self Traded by request Traded by OTT, headed to arbitration w/ CHI
Mike Comrie Extended once, one-year deal. Battled hip injuries Dumped to OTT From OTT to EDM to PIT, with little success
Dean MacAmmond Extra in Comrie/Campoli trade, played well Allowed to walk as UFA One decent year for NJD. Out of NHL last year
Sean Bergenheim Good energy/checker, weird relationship with team Not qualified Excelled at minimum wage with TBL, now overpaid by FLA
Andy Sutton Solid stay-at-home worked well w/ Hillen, but injuries always a concern Traded as rental for 2nd pick Flatlined (injury-aided) with ANA, traded to EDM
Freddy Meyer Quietly effective depth D-man Allowed to walk as UFA Signed in ATL, had injuries, now signed in Europe
Richard Park Effective and versatile checker/faceoff guy Declined two-way offer Took three-year deal in Switzerland
Dwayne Roloson Effective old man of the crease Flipped for likely top 6 D man Excelled for TBL in playoffs; re-signed there
James Wisniewski Acquired on clearance for likely 1-year rental Disappointed, flipped to MTL for 2nd and 5th Rebounded in MTL, parlayed it into massive overpayment with CBJ
Rob Schremp Steady improvement; injuries hurt; role undefined Waived, claimed by ATL but not used much ATL/WPG did not qualify him
Radek Martinek Longtime, homegrown D-man plagued by injuries Allowed to walk as UFA 1-year veteran deal in CBJ
Zenon Konopka
Faceoff specialist and pugilist
Allowed to walk as UFA Signed with OTT 1-year, $700k
Jack Hillen Mobile puck-mover, undersized D Not qualified Still a UFA as of July 12

The positive spin here would be that the Islanders have generally cut bait at the right time (Sutton, Meyer, Comrie) while avoiding overpayments to RFAs (Campoli, Bergenheim) who didn't fit the long-term picture, and in one case avoiding the overpayment that was coming for Wisniewski.

The negative spin would be that, when you don't have outstanding players, of course they're going to fade after you let them go.

Both spins have merit. But in terms of asset management, the Islanders have taken low-risk gambles (Schremp, Wisniewski, Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau, Matt Moulson, Comrie) and made the right decisions on which ones to keep around and which ones to concede as sunk costs. Doug Weight's injuries kept him from being effective for more than a few weeks in any season, but the Islanders never committed much risk toward him and certainly valued the "extras" he brought around their young roster.

 

Careful Asset Management

Moulson and Parenteau each turned good years into one-year extensions, Moulson following that up with another good year earning a longer contract. Grabner is a special case, displaying enough in one season to garner a long-term deal at a good price as an RFA.

Schremp is a talent who commands strong, opposing opinions, but regardless his fit on the Island was always going to require a steeper evolution for him, and it may be telling that a third weak team has given up on him.

Players like Martinek, Park, Sutton may have had something more to give, but in most instances it's been clear the Islanders were being careful asset managers, and that's why they haven't been burned in several seasons.

Meanwhile, the Islanders' longer-term bets have been on steady raises to Grabner and Kyle Okposo, as well as bargain values to key players Frans Nielsen and Andrew MacDonald. If they keep this up and avoid multiple large risks on boom-or-bust players, they will be in good shape as the rebuild moves along.

This isn't exactly rocket science, but it does require discipline and patience and, in the case of Martinek, Park, and Konopka, difficult decisions on well-liked players.

Of course, the longer fans wait for a smart yet slow rebuild to mature, the more antsy they get for a big splash like some of the frankly foolish contracts that get passed out by other teams each summer. The so called "next step" plunge, which may or may not pay off in a case like the Christian Ehrhoff gamble.

Therein lies the temptation, and therein lies the risk...

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