Back in January I took a look at the upcoming crop of UFA defensemen. Since then, a fair number have re-signed with their clubs, so the list has shortened. And while Garth Snow did add Lubomir Visnovsky, I still think a defenseman has to be the Islanders' number one target on July 1.
Despite the distinct bolstering of the defensive prospect pool in recent years (especially last weekend), Visnovsky and Streit may both be gone after 2013, so a multi-year signing for an NHL player is in order. Here's a look at what's left on the table.
My main summary of how I perceived the Isles' needs back in January were as follows:
In essence, the Islanders should be looking to bolster all three pairings. They need to find a good partner for Streit, who can play in his own end and move the puck. I'd also look for someone who can really solidify the third pair, and give a rookie a chance to succeed. Additionally, you hope to add some size, and maybe more importantly physical play, and someone who can pair with Streit on the power play. I would hope to see two defensemen added, and possibly even a third, with an eye toward Streit's expiring contract.
Adding Visnovsky seems to address the partner for Streit both at even strength and on the power play. So as it stands right now we have four defensemen in Hamonic, MacDonald, Streit, and Visnovsky. So even if the Isles do look within to a rookie for that 6th slot, we'll need at least one more signing, probably two, as it would be nice to add a useful 7th defenseman.
There are two ways to approach this signing. We know that Hamonic and MacDonald are a very solid top pair, so we could look to simply improve that third pair with a veteran who is solid in his own end. However, I'd propose that the best way to make the third pair better is to improve that top pair, and have MacDonald hold down the fort on the third pair. Obviously this requires the bigger signing, so it's less likely. Ideally they can add one of each, and let the youngsters push their way into the fold.
For reference, here is Capgeek's list of UFA defensemen sort by TOI.
First Pair Improvements
Ryan Suter 6'1" 198lb Age:27 LH
Little change from what I said in January:
Obviously the most coveted UFA this year. If Garth can somehow bring him to the Island it's the gamechanging signing we've looked for (but honestly hasn't been there) the past few years. This is the guy you break the bank for in my opinion. I'd love to see him paired with Hamonic, and watch them dominate games for years to come.
There's not much more to say. I think even if nothing else changes, adding Suter would instantly make us playoff contenders. The defense would go from a liability, to an advantage, even if Donovan, de Haan, or Reese end up rounding out the top six. It also would provide an enormous security blanket if Hamonic got hurt, which as we saw last season, is extremely damaging to the team.
Carlo Colaiacovo 6'1" 200lb Age:29 LH
Colaiacovo seems to have made a lot of strides during the past season. He drew the toughest competition among Blues' defensemen this past season, and did well in that role. He spent most of his time with Pietrangelo, which means there's a very good chance he could slide next to Hamonic and pick up where he left off. He also may be one of the lower profile UFAs out there, and as such a good target for the Isles. Short of blowing away Suter with an offer, I think Colaiacovo should be #2 on Garth's shopping list.
Matt Carle 6'0" 205lb Age:27 LH
I've mentioned my concerns about Carle in the comments recently, but at the end of the day, he'd probably play very well next to Hamonic. My fear would be if he didn't we'd have a very expensive third pair defenseman, but sometimes you have to roll the dice. Word is he's likely to resign in Philly, but with Schenn now in the mix, they already have seven defensemen under contract (oh the luxury!), and are up against the cap as it is.
Third Pair Improvements
My top targets here (Stoner and O'Brien) have both resigned, so I took another look at who might fit in well. In an ideal world, we land one of the First Pair guys, and one of the below. This lets the BP crew compete for spots, but doesn't pressure them if they're not ready for the jump. Pushing one of these guys into the 7 slot shouldn't be difficult if they truly are ready.
Dylan Reese 6'1" 201lb Age:27 RH
We know what we have in Reese. He's generally played well and within himself. He's not a world-beater, but he's nota game-killer either. I wouldn't mind seeing him back for depth, especially if he's willing to take a two-way deal again. If we did land a top pair guy, Reese and MacDonald would be a very solid bottom pair.
Mike Lundin 6'2" 191lb Age: 27 LH
Lundin didn't get a lot of burn with MIN, but he seems like he could be pretty solid in a true third line role. It seems he's often been deployed in more difficult positions that you'd expect. And he's supposed to be pretty solid on the PK.
Matt Gilroy 6'1" 201lb Age:27 RH
Probably saw enough of him as a Ranger to know he's not really the answer, but he might be a good option if the pool has thinned out and we still haven't filled out the roster.
I've left off some bigger names like Wideman and Garrison. I'm not sure we have a good place for them with Visnovsky in the mix. [Ed. Update: And Wideman was traded to the Flames today, who signed him for five years, $5.25 million cap hit(!)]. Yes, you might sign them with an eye toward Streit moving on in 2013, but I'd probably take my chances with resigning him or bringing in someone new then than potentially watch these guys get beaten in a first pair role they aren't really capable of handling.
Also, I didn't dig too deeply into the third pair guys, but more gave you a sense of what I'd hope they could land. So who do you guys think would work for the Isles and why? What's your plan to upgrade the defense?