Yesterday we looked at some of our qualitative impressions of the Islanders season thus far, with a glance toward next month's trade deadline.
Today's roundtable focuses a little more on the future: Second-half predictions, free agency possibilities, and criteria for decisions on the coaching staff. Of relevance to some of this discussion is afrosupreme's timely gander at the (as of now) UFA defensemen class for 2012.
Cheers to everyone who provided their own thoughtful answers yesterday. Of course you're invited to do the same with these.
Looking ahead, what are the realistic free agent targets this summer to move this program forward?
Chris McNally: The first people we need to sign are Frans Nielsen and P.A. Parenteau. After that the Isles need a Top 6 forward and a solid Top 3 d-man. While guys like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter would be nice, we're the Islanders, so signing a big name is going to be an issue. Snow's got to be smarter and I think a name that may work is Dustin Penner. He's having an off year so far but still is at an age where he would fit in long term and still has the goods to produce. A bad season may lead to less interest and the Islanders may be able to outbid other teams (obviously by a nickle or less) and get a quality forward for a change.
On the blueline, if Suter is the gold medal, I'd like to see the Isles make a run at the silver or bronze and try and sign Dennis Wideman. I'd have suggested John-Michael Liles but he just extended with Toronto, but they are the type: Both are steady enough and offensive enough to make an impact with what will otherwise be a young defense corps. I'd also like to see Snow see what it would take to get Barret Jackman. A solid, physical defenseman, he would be what Snow thought he was getting in Mark Eaton a couple summers ago.
Keith Quinn: I'm not sure if there is a quality UFA at this point that would make sense. Positionally, they need a relatively mobile and physical defenseman. That may have to come via trade. Otherwise I fear that anyone signed will either be a retread, project, expensive (in term/$) or will jump ship quickly.
Mark D.: I don't know, there's this Parise guy you might have heard of...
Mike B.: I let on to this answer early. I would be raiding the Avs for defense - they have too many guys to sign and the Isles could offer a lot of playing time and a good situation for an underrated young defender to blossom. Colorado would certainly hold onto Quincey and Johnson, and probably Hunwick, so the Isles could possibly be in play for Ryan Wilson. More generally, I think Garth will make his usually play for a front-line FA, but will also look to add depth, a guy like Scott Hannan would fit nicely on this team for two or three seasons.
Dominik: Unfortunately Florida signed the unheralded Mike Weaver to the deal I wish the Islanders could have offered. His salary and cap hit is ridiculously low, but I'd love to see if he could be shaken loose by trade. Defensively, he'd quietly solve a lot of issues. Everyone else (and afro) have covered the possible targets, but I'll just caution that some of them will be re-signed before the Isles could even get a crack at them and many are at risk for decline (Jackman, for one). It's what makes UFA so dicey: You're overpaying for yesterday's performance.
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5) Assuming GM Garth Snow's job is safe through the life of this rebuild ... is Jack Capuano's on the line? What needs to happen for the Islanders to retain him? Under what circumstances should Cappy be retained?
Chris "Comeau's #1 Fan" McNally: I think Snow's job is safe through the life of Charles Wang, so if this team fails to mkake .500 at the end of season there needs to be a scapegoat. I think Capuano is fired if the Isles endure another losing season, whether it's justified or not. Honestly I don't think any of us know what kind of coach Jack Capuano is because it feels like he's either walking on eggshells with his moves because he's afraid of what upper management will think or he's simply upper management's puppet and he's doing what he feels they want him to do. He may turn out to be an outstanding coach in the right environment, but the Islanders need a veteran voice behind the bench, not some minor league project.
Keith "Thorn in Neil Smith's Side" Quinn: I'm not certain Jack Capuano can coach speed into Mark Eaton, health into Al Montoya, or 30 goals out of Josh Bailey, so I assume that he is fine in terms of job retention. He should be retained if throughout the remainder of the season the team performs like it has against the Red Wings and the Flyers recently (regardless of record) and let go if they continue to look like they did against the Ducks and Coyotes.
Mike "Broken Knee" B.: A good second-half surge would be very helpful to Capuano. But I think he's safe in either case. If the Isles stagger through the second half, however, he will need to get the team off to a fast start next season.
Mark "Probably Couldn't Even Own a Suit" D: I don't know if Capuano should stay or go, but if he is going to stay the Islanders have to give him a longer term deal. I think it's obvious that some nights he is playing more to win now then to develop the future. Which you can't blame him for considering that his deal is up at the end of the year. It would be nice if the team went on another 2nd half surge, but that might not be the best sign for the future if it happens again. There just aren't that many coaches out there without a job that jump off the sheet.
Dominik "Answer Changer": I've no inside knowledge, but I always assume: 1) Snow would prefer not to change coaches, and 2) The few difference-making coaches (think: Ken Hitchcock) are the type who will wait for a golden opportunity which is decidedly not with the Isles. (Even Hitchcock took over a slightly underachieving team that had brutal luck, bad goaltending, and a tough early-season road-heavy schedule.) Barring a spring collapse, I think Cappy's here until this team progresses to the next tier and then plateaus, the way rebuilding teams tend to do. (R.I.P. Denis Savard, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, etc.)
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6) Where will Evgeni Nabokov, P.A. Parenteau and Frans Nielsen be playing in March?
Chris "I Only Recap Blowout Losses" McNally: If Frans Nielsen or P.A. Parenteau are playing anywhere but Uniondale in March, then the Islanders aren't serious about a rebuild, and they're just trying to compete with the cheapest team money can buy. The Isles may have a ton of forward prospects but I don't see any of them coming in and making the kind of impact Nielsen or Parenteau would make next year. If Snow has the tiniest bit of sense, Nabakov is playing elsewhere in March, I would think on a Western Conference playoff team, somewhere like Nashville, Dallas, or Chicago.
Keith "From Your TV to My Twitter" Quinn: I think they will all be here on Long Island. I expect that the Islanders will allow Nabokov to play out his contract and leave (if he wishes) via free agency in order to allow the young goalies to continue to develop in Bridgeport while still fielding a goaltending rotation with the big club. Of the other two, the only way I see them not being here is if they can be used to lure a punishing minutes eating defenseman with decent mobility...whether they test UFA after the season or not is another story...
Mark "Milbury's Trade History Is Tattooed on My Chest Like the Dude in that Fox Prison Show" D.: Parenteau and Frans better both be with the Islanders, with the team announcing their new long term deals. Nabokov as I've said about above I'm indifferent about. The Islanders are going to need to get to the cap floor, again, and both PAP and Nielsen are in line for raises anyway. It would be very disappointing if either of them weren't Islanders.
Mike "Not All Goalies Are Crazy, But This One Sure Is" B: Nabakov will wind up on the first contender that suffers a goalkeeping injury of significance. If that doesn't happen, I can see him as a rental in Philadelphia. The Isles would probably waive the "don't trade to division rivals" guideline here, because the Flyers are in WIN NOW mode - there's even a rumor they'll break the bank for Ryan Suter. If Garth can get a good piece in return it would be a good move for all concerned. Other than that, perhaps Colorado or Toronto make the most sense, as they need a bona-fide keeper to mount a playoff push, who will also not stand in the way of their current heirs apparent, Varlamov and Reimer.
I think the Isles keep both PAP and Neilsen.
Dominik "The Long-Winded": For Parenteau and Nielsen, if it's not Long Island, we got problems. I don't make either for the type who will try to break the bank, so if a deal can't be reached my faith will be shaken. For Nabokov? The goalie market is awful. Might as well keep him for the string rather than take a 5th-round pick.
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Make your fearless individual or team-related prediction for the second half.
Chris "Bailey is my New Comeau" McNally: I think the efforts we saw against the Red Wings and Flyers before the break are the kind of team you'll see in the Islanders for the second half of the season. The Isles are in a position where they're not so far out that a run at the playoffs is unrealistic. I think at the end of the season we'll be looking at a 37-36-9 final record, which would end up being a 10 point improvement over last season. Individually, expect Michael Grabner will reach the 25 goal mark and Josh Bailey will end up with a 30 point season, which after the start he had, would be an accomplishment.
Keith "Neither Mighty, Nor Doctor, But At Least Irish" Quinn: John Tavares will exceed a point per game and settle at 92 on the season. The Isles will re-sign Evgeni Nabokov
Mike "Just Because I'm Paranoid Doesn't Mean I'm A Goalie. But I Am. A Goalie, That Is." B.: Tavares finishes with 90 or more points. At some point the Isles move or bench a couple of dead roster spots and give shots to guys like Rakhshani or de Haan, who play well enough so that the Isles make a major trade leading up to the draft.
Dominik "The Fence-Straddler": Michael Grabner reaches 28 goals, the Islanders finish with 80 points, Florida misses the playoffs again, and the Smurfs bow out in the second round.
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Most of these answers were solicited last week, but they're still relevant. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking with us through the break. Thanks for providing your own answers below if so inclined. Don't forget Part 1 of the roundtable is also still open.