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Islanders 2011-12: Picturing how the depth chart evolves

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Egads, it's the Monday after a holiday. Hope you had a relaxing, festive weekend. If you're just tuning back in (or putting off returning to the grind), the Islanders added no one over the weekend. But while NHL news may slow to a crawl in the coming weeks, we won't. What you might have missed while grilling dead animals and avoiding Aunt Mildred: We had a round-up of Lighthouse Project links and draft reactions; a reflection on how the Islanders' fortunes may have been different had they re-signed Ryan Smyth, who Colorado dealt to Los Angeles over the weekend; and Nate Thompson filed for arbitration, while Chris Lee signed with the Penguins organization, Peter Mannino with Atlanta.

Yesterday I mused how -- temptation be damned -- the Islanders are right to play it conservative in the NHL's always overpriced free agent market (It's not too late to register your rebuttal). There's the matter of payroll flexibility on a low-revenue team, of course, but there's also the matter of leaving spots open for development during the rebuild. On that note, as an illustrative exercise, today I want to project a few years forward to see just what spots might open up as contracts expire. I appreciate any corrections or quibbles with who is slotted where. This is a chance to really meander as fantasy GM, if you want to play around with it -- including stealing other teams' free agents and cap casualties.

First, here's where we stand now, with a roster that is nearly set for 2009-10. (Yikes! Are the '00s coming to a close already?!):

 New York Islanders 2009-10
Bergenheim Weight Okposo
Tambellini Tavares Comeau*
Park Bailey Hunter
Joensuu Nielsen Jackman
Sim Thompson* Rechlicz
DEFENSE Gervais Streit
Martinek Witt
Sutton Meyer
GOAL DiPietro
Blake Comeau, Jack Hillen and Nate Thompson are RFA's (denoted by asterisks) right now who will presumably be brought back. Doug Weight, Richard Park, Tim Jackman, Jon Sim, Andy Sutton, Freddy Meyer and Scott Munroe are all entering their walk years and will be UFA's (in italics) next summer. Already you get an idea of new openings around the bend...


By the time EA Sports' NHL games came out with a true franchise mode earlier this decade, I'd lost the spare time to enjoy the game the way I always dreamed they'd design it. But look a year ahead at the Islanders' roster, and the real fun begins for the fantasy GM in you:

 New York Islanders 2010-11
Bergenheim* Tavares Okposo
Tambellini* Bailey (Comeau)
Nielsen Hunter
Bentivoglio Smith (2010 pick?)

DEFENSE Gervais Streit
Martinek Witt

GOAL DiPietro

For 2010-11, assume Weight has retired or been dealt at the trade deadline, Sutton, Park, Meyer, Sim and perhaps Munroe have departed through free agency, and Mikko Koskinen has been brought over to the AHL. Comeau and Hillen are listed asssuming they reach workable deals this summer. But Nate Thompson -- well, who knows what's in store next year at this time, considering he filed for arbitration this summer. I left Tambellini on there because he'll be an RFA -- so just a qualifying offer would retain his rights -- but I realize many fans will envision cutting him loose. Since we have him for at least one more year, I'm going to try to reserve judgment. Again.

Tim Jackman is the type of guy you can see the Islanders bringing back again, but at this point he represents a roster opening for 2010. It's not hard to imagine the upcoming season going in a way that the Islanders can add an NHL-ready player in the 2010 draft's first round, although that draft is currently viewed as a weaker crop.

Meanwhile, in summer 2010 Dwayne Roloson, Bruno Gervais, Radek Martinek and Brendan Witt will be heading into their UFA walk years. Nathan Lawson is really too hard to project, and even information for his current NHL deal (his first) is tough to come by. Which brings us to...


 New York Islanders 2011-12
(Bergenheim) Tavares Okposo*

Bailey* (Comeau)
Nielsen Hunter
Bentivoglio DiBenedetto (2010 pick?)
Rakhshani Rechlicz*
DEFENSE Gervais* Streit
Ness Harmonic
GOAL DiPietro

Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Jesse Joensuu and Joel Rechlicz would be RFA's in summer 2012. Comeau and Bergenheim are a judgment call, but I'm figuring them in as part of a core that would be retained. I let Thompson go; he's at best a replacement player who'd likely be, well, replaced by summer 2011. Roloson retires; maybe Anders Nilsson comes overseas? Tambellini probably doesn't survive two summers, right? Witt, Gervais and Martinek are taken off as UFAs in 2011, although it's quite possible two of them would be re-signed.

It goes without saying that the current prospects I've filled in at the bottom of the depth chart in the 2011-12 table are speculative uncertainties, and perhaps some should be swapped out for others in the system. But I'm not really interested in which ones are more likely to hit it as NHL players at this premature point -- rather, just that some of them will have to or the Islanders will be turning to free agency quite a bit more than they prefer. (Personally I'll be disappointed if the Islanders' current NHL blueline is continued beyond the upcoming season. Each serviceable in their own right, as a whole there are too many average blueliners after Streit, which is why a free agent departure for Francois Beauchemin is an acceptable pipe dream in my book.)

The point is that this is the sort of roster evolution -- and sheer uncertainty -- we can expect over the next few seasons. Most of the current veterans are keeping the seats warm while the Islanders develop their recent haul of prospects to see who can truly fill NHL roles. Yet even by next summer, two years into the rebuild-in-earnest, things should be clearer. The Islanders will know more about which prospects probably won't pan out, and Garth Snow will have a better idea of what kind of long-term free agents or other team's salary cap casualties would fit.

On that note, it won't hurt to know where the Lighthouse Project stands by then, because if the Islanders don't have a good picture of where revenues will come from after the Coliseum lease expires, well ... let's not go there.