In the 2012-13 NHL season, for the first time in a while, the Islanders had a defense that could actually hold up against other NHL groups. Heading into the season, pundits around the league believed that the Islanders defense would be one of the worst in the league, and would cause the Islanders to face yet another lottery pick.
Of course, this did not happen. We all remember Garth Snow picking up every waiver wire defenseman that he could, and getting Lubomir Visnovsky to come play for the Islanders after his futile attempt to get out of coming to New York in the first place. Brian Strait, Joe Finley, and Thomas Hickey all played minutes in the NHL - and Hickey and Strait looked good doing it. Last season, nine defensemen suited up for the Isles and all of them played over 10 games. Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald made it through the entire season. But going into the 2013-14 season, there are still a lot of question marks.
Mark Streit has left - most likely for the best, considering his four year, $21 million deal with the Flyers that will keep him on the Flyers payroll until he's 40. Never underestimate Paul Holmgren's ability to find new ways to overpay players. Joe Finley wasn't very good and probably won't be playing any significant minutes. Matt Carkner, like Joe Finley, will have to fend off younger players like Matt Donovan, possibly Griffin Reinhart and maybe even Calvin De Haan. Radek Martinek is really old and injury prone, and although well liked and decent, won't be back.
We can pretty much count on Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, and Lubomir Visnovsky to be on the opening night roster. Ultimately, there is a lot of depth on defense - but no real #1 guy, or even a #2 guy.
AMac - Hamonic
Visnovsky - Hickey
Strait - Whichever rookie wins
Carkner - Other rookiesThere are Options
Despite this, there are some defensemen floating around that may be available for trade, or free agent signing. Let's take a look at Garth Snow's options.
Ron Hainsey, after years of patrolling Winnipeg and Atlanta's blueline, has come on the open market. Not a flashy guy, he can still be counted on to provide a solid shutdown role. He doesn't really score goals and doesn't pick up many assists, but he is a quiet, underrated defenseman who gets it done. To be honest, the Islanders already have guys like this. He's probably worth 3-4 million, but it's doubtful that he gets it on the Islanders.
Tom Gilbert is a decent offensive defenseman who was stuck on some terrible Oilers squads and was also stuck on the Wild. I don't really think the Isles want Tom Gilbert - he will be overpriced for what he provides.
Ian White at one time was Nick Lidstrom's D-partner. He put up good numbers in that role. Last season, he wasn't Nick Lidstrom's partner, and put up less impressive numbers. I wouldn't write this guy off, but he's pretty much Ron Hainsey 2.0. Puts up decent stats, and isn't bad in his own end, but don't count on him to bring the offense.
Two years ago, everyone had a man-crush on Pietrangelo. Last year, he was still good. St. Louis is deciding whether he is worth a ton of money and will probably sign him to a bridge deal. He most likely isn't available in trade, as he is the centerpiece of their Blues-line (lol) and if signed to an offer sheet, it would have to be really big. Even then, the Blues would probably dump one of their depth guys on someone else and match it. Probably not going to happen.
Vancouver has been having trouble signing Chris Tanev, because they don't really know what they have. Last year I actually watched him play a lot, and he was pretty impressive. He doesn't score a lot, doesn't hit a lot, but he always makes the right play and breaks it up. He is a very good, underrated shutdown d-man. He also played sheltered minutes. Vancouver wouldn't match anything over 2 million, but he isn't worth anything over 2 million yet either. The Islanders already have guys like this.
Of everyone on this list, Cody Franson is the one who would be the best option for the Isles. The guy was put in sheltered minutes playing on the Toronto Maple Leafs 3rd pair with Mark Fraser, and despite not getting that much ice time, was still able to rack up a ton of points. 29 points in 45 games to be exact. That's pretty tough to do on the third pair playing next to a plugger, but he pulled it off.
Because of this, and because Dave Nonis is given a free pass to spend as much money as he wants, Cody Franson will not be re-signed for what he wants in Toronto. He is reportedly available in trade. For the right price, he might be a solid option next to Lubomir Visnovsky that could create a great offensive pair - something that the Islanders lack. The guy is 26 and his best years are ahead of him. He is probably a better offensive defenseman than anything else that the Islanders have got. Trade for this guy. Seriously, Garth Snow - pick up Cody Franson.
What the Islanders have to trade
What should the Islanders give up for Cody Franson, if they do decide to trade for him. The Leafs have no real bargaining power, and they might pawn off John Michael Liles to try and get cap space to resign Nazem Kadri, who is about to get paid after a big offensive season from Toronto's third line. The Islanders have a lot of depth guys like Eric Boulton (THE LEAFS LOVE FACE PUNCHERS) and Matt Carkner (SERIOUSLY, RANDY CARLYLE LOVES ENFORCERS).
The Leafs also could use some more prospects, because they can't afford to play anyone else at this point. For these reasons, the Leafs should be the preferred trading partner for the New York Islanders. Calvin De Haan would be a good guy to trade, and the Islanders might be ready to start trading picks.
However, they could go another route - the offer sheet. The Leafs only have 5 million in space, and they need Nazem Kadri a lot more than Cody Franson. A $4,000,000 offer sheet would go a long way towards really giving the Leafs some cap trouble and would basically force them to concede the offer sheet. Of course, this would kill any relationship that Garth Snow could ever have with Dave Nonis, but it would give the Isles a real offensive defenseman who isn't 40.
John Michael Liles
The Leafs, as mentioned above, need cap space. John Michael Liles is an older, solid offensive defenseman who finds himself in the press box quite often. The Isles wouldn't have to give up much for him, and the Leafs might retain salary. A third round pick would probably be enough to bring him to Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. However, he is pretty one-dimensional and the Islanders probably have better prospects.
Wait Another Year for UFA's
Next year, there will be a lot of solid defensemen who will probably be hitting the market. Dion Phaneuf, Dan Girardi, Nik Hjalmarsson, Joni Pitkanen, Rusty Klesla, Matt Greene, and Mark Fayne are younger guys who stand out. If the Isles want a real veteran, Andrei Markov, Dan Boyle, Kimmo Timonen, Willie Mitchell, and Stephane Robidas are the guys that really stand out.
I don't think the Islanders need to be overpaying an old guy, but at least one of the younger d-men on that list will be hitting the market. Dion Phaneuf is the one that really stands out - the Leafs will probably resign him, but if he is willing to come to the Islanders, he's easily worth $6.5 million a year. He has performed well in a shutdown role in Toronto, and has provided a lot of offense to go along with it. He is a well rounded defenseman who can get stuck with an AHL level partner like Mike Kostka for 30 minutes a game and still come out on top. Seriously, the guy is buried against the toughest competition in the league behind a terrible coach and next to AHL level partners and his corsi isn't completely shot. He can score 40-50 points a season, can lay you out, and is a leader. If he's available, Garth Snow needs to target him.
Stay the Course
The Islanders have a lot of good young defensemen rising through the ranks. Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, Griffin Reinhart, and Ryan Pulock should be pushing hard for NHL jobs over the next couple of years. They will be cheaper options, and may turn out to be better options than any of the above. Of everything that may happen, Garth Snow is most likely to exercise this option. I don't think this is the best option, but it is the safest option.
That's it folks. Thanks for reading.