The first day of NHL free agency did not see the big names move, but depth and second-chance names moved at a steady pace. The New York Islanders were among the shoppers for that latter group, agreeing to terms with ex-Sabres winger Brad Boyes on a one-year deal and ex-Senators defenseman Matt Carkner on a three-year deal.
Reports had Boyes' contract at the bargain of $1 million, while Carkner's is reported as $1.5 million per year -- about right for a veteran depth addition, though the three-year commitment to a 31-year-old whose peak is as a third-pairing guy comes as a surprise.
Carkner is perhaps best remembered by Islanders fans for jumping then-Isles forward Tim Jackman after deeming Jackman to be "looking to start a ruckus." He brings toughness, and as a righty shot the Islanders likely picture him as someone to help protect any or all of the three lefty D prospects (Aaron Ness, Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan) who will be fighting for a job in training camp.
Carkner was limited to 29 games last season, mostly due to knee surgery, though he's taken the long road to the NHL and has long had to fight for a spot in the lineup. If the Islanders are doing well, he shouldn't have a guaranteed spot in the lineup on Long Island either.
Boyes has the far more interesting history, and it's a little surprising that his salary will be less than even Carkner's.
For starters, Boyes was a hot prospect at one time, drafted in the first round (24th overall) by the Maple Leafs all the way back in 2000. He never saw a game with the Leafs, was swapped to the Sharks in the Owen Nolan trade. After the lockout (and just one NHL game) the Sharks dumped him to Boston, where he broke out for 26 goals his rookie year.
Boston leveraged him to the Blues for Dennis Wideman (a similar journeyman with offensive upside and defensive concerns), and Boyes had the two best seasons of his career in St. Louis. He put up 43 and 33 goals for the Blues, but an ugly minus-20 in 2008-09 (the 33-goal year) had him redoubling his focus on the defensive side of his game.
And that's where things got weird. A decline in his production -- shooting percentage dropped from over 15% to below 10% -- coincided with declining powerplay ice time, and today the one-time sniper appears to overthink his shots in a cycle that creates lower production, followed by less ice time from the coaches, followed by still lower production.
Parenteau Signs with Colorado
Consider this a fresh start for Boyes, particularly if the right-handed shot gets a chance at replacing P.A. Parenteau, who has left to sign with the Colorado Avalanche for a reported four years, $16 million. Not necessarily on the top line -- though that's possible too -- but if he replaces Parenteau as the righty on the powerplay, then he might get some pucks to start going in again.
News of Parenteau's deal clarifies the line in the sand between the Isles and Parenteau, who was reportedly seeking more term than the Isles were offering. In recent years, the Isles have signed five-year deals with young "core" members, but with late-20s veterans have stopped at Matt Moulson's three-year deal (aside from the three- and five-year deals Carkner and Mark Streit received on the open market).
Interestingly, our Lighthouse Hockey poll back in February produced a plurality saying 4 years, $16 million was as high as we'd go to keep Parenteau. Kudos to the wisdom of crowds.
One more thing about Boyes: He's lethal in the shootout, usually relying on a Jeff Tambellini-esque snipe rather than any particular deke. Blues and Sabres fans will tell you it's something to see Boyes waltz in with confidence in the NHL's tie-breaker drill, while the same confidence escapes him in game play as he fires shots against the glass.
To be clear, Boyes has some good offensive skills and if he rediscovers them with the Isles, then it's an excellent signing. Even if it doesn't work out, it's a zero-risk signing at that rate, giving Boyes an opportunity to rebuild his market value the way the Isles ironically did for Parenteau before him. As a $4 million player, he didn't make sense for Buffalo or anyone anymore. As a $1 million player, he's a fine gamble.
And he knows the deal, as he told the Islanders today:
In Buffalo, there were a lot of guys on that team with similar styles to me. Now, coming in to New York, I think it’s going to be a better situation for me, a better fit. I think this year is going to be one of those years where I have something to prove. I’m looking to get back to the way that I know I can play and produce.
Boyes, much more so than Carkner, represents the kind of distressed-asset gamble the lower-revenue Islanders have made a habit of targeting. We'll see if it pays off.
Dylan Reese signed with the Penguins on a two-way deal "after he didn't get a one-way offer from the Islanders," according to Newsday's Arthur Staple. ... Micheal Haley signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Rangers, which should make the next Battle of New York fun if he's with the club and dressed. (Not a given; the Rangers also signed Arran Asham.) ... The Isles are also said to have reached an agreement with enforcer Eric Boulton, who is supposed to be bought out by the Devils.
Also of minor note: The Isles inked defenseman John Landry to a two-way contract, his first NHL deal at age 29. He was with Bridgeport last season and will continue to add depth there.
Chatting to the exhausted end: Our Day 1 NHL Free Agency open thread continues here, some 1,000 comments and counting.