FanPost

The Wizards of Waiverly Place: Which Islanders Might Become the Ones that Got Away?

Big waive coming? - Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

I love the words "waive" and "waiver." It’s one of those accidents of the English language where the sound of the word adds resonance to the word itself. Who does think of "waving goodbye" or "waving someone off" when hearing that a player is being put on waivers? I know I do.

But seriously, as an Islander fan, I take particular enjoyment from the word as, over the past few years, it has been the means by which Garth Snow has shrewdly obtained valuable talent at minimal cost, such as Michael Grabner, Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Hickey. However, this season, the word is causing some anxiety among Isles fans. We’ve all read Staple’s articles and tweets about the large number of players who will be competing for a limited number of roster spots this training camp.

And while coach Jack Capuano has repeatedly indicated that this "competition" is by design, sending the message to players that nothing is to be taken for granted this season, the surplus of players is likely to cause headaches for management because with the exception of Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Griffin Reinhart, all the players considered serious candidates for spots will be subject to waivers. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that multiple players are going to be waived. And while the Isles have had to send players through waivers after past training camps, this season the Isles may have to waive valuable talents likely to be nabbed by other teams.

Note that I am assuming for the purposes of this post that any player on an NHL contract is automatically assigned to the NHL roster at the start of each training camp and that players that get cut must therefore be loaned in order to play for that team’s AHL affiliate, a transaction that triggers the waiver process for players that aren’t exempt. There was some speculation in comments to prior posts (much of it by me) that a player can begin training camp on the AHL roster if he was on the roster the prior season but I don’t see any support in the CBA for that.

Potential Waiver Candidates at Forward

I am assuming that the following nine forwards have spots locked down: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck. Ryan Strome seems to have the inside track for a tenth spot with Anders Lee with a shot at an eleventh. That means there are between one and three available lineup spots and one or two spots in the pressbox

1. Matt Martin: While much of the LHH commentariat believes otherwise, management clearly values Matt Martin. Despite terrible possession numbers (-4.13 CorsiRel), he played in nearly every Isles game for the past three seasons and you rarely hear a negative word about him from Cappy (whether in direct quotes or filtered through Staple’s reporting). And he is your classic fan favorite. Although I can see him being carried as an extra forward given the number of players with higher skills competing for spots, I can’t see the team waiving Matt Martin, especially given the likelihood that another team will claim him.

Likelihood of waivers (1 to 5): 1

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 1

2. Casey Cizikas: Cizikas is more interesting case. On the one hand, he had decent offensive numbers two seasons ago and is a center. On the other hand, his numbers tailed off last season and he admitted in interviews to not having pushed himself enough, which is a cardinal sin in Cappy’s book (his figurative book, not his real one). The team did give him a nice two year contract, so there’s that. Overall, my guess is waivers is unlikely given his position as a center and the fact that the organization probably sees upside to his game given his relative youth.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 1

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 1

3. Cory Conacher: Of all the forwards in this category, Cory Conacher has been the most productive by far, scoring 55 points in 126 NHL games. His possession numbers have also been decent, with a positive Relative Corsi this past season and the prior one. However, for better or worse, my guess is this team prefers, how shall I say it, shitty players on its fourth line and as a more skilled player without size, his only shot may be in the top nine, which seems unlikely given the lack of truly available spots. Although it would be odd for the Isles to sign a free agent only to waive him, he was signed before the Grabovski and Kulemin signings.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 2

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 1

4. Eric Boulton: On the one hand, Eric Boulton has extremely limited hockey skills whose main role is to punch faces. On the other hand… Eric Boulton has extremely limited hockey skills whose main role is to punch faces. While management clearly believes Eric Boulton has a role to play on this team (they just re-signed him to a one year deal), given the number of candidates with more value, waivers seems like a real possibility for him.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 4

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 3

5. Colin McDonald: Colin McDonald seems like a guy who is going to get waived because there is no aspect to his game that distinguishes him from his peers. He doesn’t play center like Cizikas, doesn’t hit like (or have the popularity of) Matt Martin and doesn’t have the skill of Cory Conacher.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 4

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 2

6. The others: I don’t have much to say about Jack Skille, Hary Zolniechurchman, Brett Gallant, Chris Bruton and Justin Johnson other than that I can’t see any of them making the roster and they likely get waived. Jack Skille has been taken off of waivers in the past and may get taken again.

Bottom Line: My gut tells me that Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas make the team, which leaves one lineup spot and one or two pressbox spots for Strome, Lee, and the rest of the guys listed above. Losing Conacher to waivers would seem like a tough loss, but my guess is they will find a way to keep him, perhaps by sending Lee to PBT.

Potential Waiver Candidates at Defense

On defense, I am assuming that four spots are locked down: Hamonic, de Haan, Visnovsky and Hickey. Reinhart has the inside track on the fifth spot, leaving one lineup spot and one or two pressbox spots available.

1. T.J. Brennan: Isles fans should be familiar with the T.J. Brennan story: he absolutely dominated the AHL last season but has gotten limited NHL opportunities. He hasn’t been bad in his limited NHL time, scoring 10 points in 29 games in the lockout season and positive possession numbers (2.44 CorsiRel). The fact that they signed him suggest that management sees a role for him on the roster.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 2

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 1

2. Matt Carkner: Matt Carkner is another player that management seems to like, which is odd given Cappy’s stated preference for speedy, puck movers, which Carkner is not. Still Cappy seems to appreciate Carkner’s keep it simple workaday approach and his grit and stuff, lunchpail punchcard Joe sixpack. No, I can’t even properly express why Cappy like Carkner other than with rambling clichés. I have a hard time seeing Carkner getting waived but who knows.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 2

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 2

3. Brian Strait: Brian Strait is basically a replacement level kind of guy. He brings very limited offense, he’s slow, he gets injured, he’s a possession black hole. But he does have awesome facial hair. The Isles did sign him to a nice contract in 2013 but that was before how obvious his suckage became.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 3

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 4

4. Matt Donovan: At one point Matt Donovan seemed like a great Islanders story. A Oklahoman picked in the fourth round out of the USHL, he seemed like a long shot. But he excelled at every level he played in: Univeristy of Denver, the World Juniors and finally, the AHL where he became one of the top scoring defensemen in 2011-12.

He continued his stellar play in his 2012-13 AHL season, yet when the NHL lockout ended, Donovan remained in Bridgeport while the Isles rounded out their roster with waiver wire pickups. He spent most of 2013-14 with the Islanders but was sent up and down many times. While is offensive numbers were solid (16 points in 52 games) and possession numbers were downright stellar (5.47 CorsiRel), he from time to time made obvious poor decisions on the ice and never seemed to catch favor with the coaching staff. And the signing of another offense-oriented defenseman in the offseason, T.J. Brennan, seemed to confirm that. Despite all this, I find it hard to imagine the Islanders subject him to waivers, where he will undoubtedly be plucked by some other team. But who knows.

Likelihood of being waived (1 to 5): 2

Likelihood of clearing waivers (1 to 5): 1

5. The Others: At one point Aaron Ness was considered a top prospect but he’s since been overtaken by the likes of Matt Donovan and Thomas Hickey. Although he’s been a serviceable in his short call ups, I can’t see him grabbing a roster spot. I don’t know much about Marc Cantin, but he’s not getting a spot either

Bottom Line: It’s really hard to figure how this shakes out. There are essentially three or possibly four spots open – two on the third pairing and one or two press box spots (two extra defensemen would obviously limit the flexibility with respect to the forwards). My guess is Reinhart gets one spot, leaving two or three spots for Brennan, Carkner, Donovan and Strait. If Strait gets waived, they can keep the remaining three. But if they decide to carry two extra forwards and only one extra defenseman, one of Brennan, Carkner and Donovan gets waived. So maybe that decision truly comes down to camp.

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