Note: I have a few of these thought exercises in mind. They're not intended as actual plans or recommendations, but rather wild "what-if?" fantasy scenarios for the Islanders' offseason if Garth Snow got a wild hair. More importantly, they're an excuse for you to get any opinions off your chest and share "what-if" fantasy targets.
The Islanders' last important Russian is someone who hasn't dressed for them in three years but will receive checks until the Coliseum lease expires. When they drafted Kiril Petrov in 2008, it was because his KHL contract led this "first-round talent" to drop in the draft, and the Isles had picks to burn. Now there is talk that Petrov will come for prospect camp -- and NHL-KHL relations are said to be thawing enough that you can start to imagine a transfer/loan that puts Petrov in the organization next season.
So: What if the Islanders went "the Atlanta route" -- (previously: The Rangers "sign Czechs for Jagr route") -- and tried to surround Petrov with comrades? What if Garth Snow suddenly fell in love with Russia? It's a long summer, so play along, won't you...
1. Ilya Kovalchuk -- The most fanciful target to make Petrov feel comfortable would be Ilya, who'd add point-per-game flash and butts in seats. He's also well-versed at making a comfortable home among Russians in a land far from home at a very young age, so he'd be great for Kiril. This isn't happening for a variety of reasons, including: the rebuild, Ilya's desire for a contending team and/or max money, and what one could guess might be Charles Wang's reluctance to go all-in with a Russian star again. But don't tell me you wouldn't tune in if it did.
|2009-10 - Ilya Kovalchuk
2. The Draft: Alexander Burmistrov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Kiril Kabanov
We're remaining in hallucinogenic territory here, but how insane would it be if Snow buttressed the blueline through free agency and then went hog wild on Russian forwards in the draft? Tarasenko or Burmistrov at #5 is a reach -- do I smell another Draft Party-deflating trade-down scenario for more picks and Petrovs? -- but either is on a few top 10 lists. And if Kabanov really does drop to the second round, Snow could compile enough forwards to teach Bruno Gervais a great borscht recipe. Or if you must, suppose Snow drafts a D at #5 and Kabanov drops to #35? (Again, not likely, but...)
Burmistrov is listed as a center and the Islanders are already deep there, but it never hurts to let centers fight it out and learn who can adjust to the wing later. Kabanov is a crazily talented left-shooting wing, but you may have heard he had a host of issues that have him not playing in Moncton's title push nor with Russia's U-18 team. Whether he's getting bad council or bad mental vitamins, you just don't know; he certainly said the right things about playing in North America eight months ago. Whichever team takes him has guts, but the risk/reward is phenomenal.
3. Turning This Russian Thing up to 11: Zherdev and Lisin
There are two former Rangers (okay, one is still technically a Ranger) who could be available this summer and offer a mix of tantalizing skill and enigmatic question marks: Nikolai Zherdev and Enver Lisin, both of whom ran into what is an all too familiar North American-Russian cultural clash with Glen Sather and John Tortorella, respectively.
Zherdev will want a hefty salary -- like the kind the Rangers walked away from in arbitration last summer -- to return, but you know on a random selection of nights per month he'd earn it in spades. Six of those nights would be against the Rangers, who he'd love to stick it to -- and what better team could he join to achieve that?
Lisin, a restricted free agent buried in meaningless minutes by Torts, warmed up with Russia's entry into this month's IIHF World Championship but is returning home and will not play in the tournament. You could imagine the Rangers letting him walk rather than pay him an RFA raise, as the Rangers treat assets like cigarettes to smoke, burn, then dispose.
Grabbing either or both of Lisin and Zherdev would create some of that tantalizing forward flash, as well as (likely) the traditional cries of "Who won't that enigma show up every night?!" and change the character of the proverbial locker room. In the realm of fanciful possibilities, this one actually starts to approach "doable."
4. I Thought You Said We Need Defense: Enter Babchuk
After never reaching an agreement with the Hurricanes last season, Anton Babchuk is likely returning to these shores. But he's still an RFA, so the Canes will have first crack at him. However, should they fail to find an agreement, does Jim Rutherford sit on that asset for two years running? I don't think so. A trade would be the next step, and Babchuk would add a puck-moving powerplay guy to the Isles. His 16 goals in 2008-09 came on an absurd (for a defenseman) 12.6 shooting percentage and questions abound about his true value, but hey, this is a full-on Russian hallucination exercise, so join in.
...oh, and about that "Russian" bit: Babchuk was actually born in Ukraine. But since when has that stopped Americans from lumping them all into the same "over there, where enigmas come from" boat?
Depth Chart: Get me a typesetter who has Cyrillic
So picture this then, and adjust it accordingly to feed your own delusions (such as Kovlachuk, if you're going all-in):
Moulson (or...Kovi?) | Tavares | Okposo
Petrov | Bailey | Zherdev/Lisin
Bergenheim | Nielsen | Hunter
Joensuu/Martin | Schremp | | Comeau
MacDonald | Streit
Babchuk | Hillen
Martinek | Meyer/UFA/Gervais
Quite a bit different than our first 2010-11 depth chart, eh? Add Kovalchuk to this hallucination and the team is completely made over. Don't add Kovalchuk and you've altered the skill makeup of the team without actually increasing payroll. (The big hole here is a big defenseman to fill the vacated Andy Sutton role.)
In the pipeline, you have Anton Klementyev on defense and one or two of the Russian 2010 draft forwards mentioned above (in addition to the North American prospects). You have completely gone Russian. You have added skill and excitement, at the price of the enigma -- part-cultural stereotype, part-real -- associated with bringing in skilled forwards from the Russian game.
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I know this is all a bit absurd -- that's the point. With 50 days yet until the draft, we have plenty of time to toss around various fantasy GM scenarios. You're turn to draw on the napkin...