The Islanders did well enough to make the playoffs last year, but didn't do well enough to end a second round drought that has existed since the 1993 season. The team did great in possession and looked like they might take the east before plummeting during the late months, losing home ice advantage and eventually being eliminated in seven games. The Islanders now enter this season with a glaring hole where Lubomir Visnovsky once played.
Replacing Visnovsky may or may not be the most important thing on the list, but that doesn't mean that they should just leave the spot void. A perfect fit for the Islanders would be Raphael Diaz. Here are a few reasons the team should look at the diminutive Swiss defenseman.
He's a Penalty Killing Defenseman
The penalty kill was the biggest issue the Islanders faced last season. The team finished bottom five in the league and looked like a tire fire all year long. Despite this, three of the Islanders defensemen looked close to adequate or better.
The league average saw around 49.5 scoring chances against per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. Only one defenseman - Johnny Boychuck - was better than that at 49.11. Thomas Hickey and Nick Leddy were close as they averaged 49.7 and 51.12 scoring chances against per 60 minutes. After that it was a tire fire with Calvin de Haan at 60.14, Travis Hamonic at 62.02, and Brian Strait at 74.52.
It's an area where they could use improvement particularly on the right hand side. There's a spot open should a young player take it, but if not there are certainly plenty of options elsewhere. Sample sizes on penalty killing are generally small, but there are multiple options which wouldn't hurt their possession numbers. There are a total of three right handed defensemen that are unrestricted free agents, right handed, have played more than 200 minutes on the penalty kill over the past four seasons and had positive relative Corsi numbers.
Michal Rozsival - 45.71 PKSCA/60 2012-2015 seasons (45.71 minutes)
Raphael Diaz - 43.16 PKSCA/60 2012-2015 seasons (246.04 minutes)
Cody Franson - 48.33 PKSCA/60 2012-2015 seasons (293 minutes)
Diaz is likely the only one in the Islanders price point. He also had the highest relative Corsi of the three.
He Likely Won't Carry a Large Cap Hit
Diaz is coming off of a season where he made the Flames roster after a tryout with the team in September. He carried a very miniscule 700 thousand dollar cap hit this season. While he performed well in the possession numbers, he isn't exactly known for his scoring acumen which should keep his AAV down.
This makes Diaz a perfect candidate as a sixth or seventh defenseman for the Islanders. He's not going to break the bank, he's not going to be wasted money should he get scratched for a prospect, and the value he carries to a team is greater than the contract value. He's a quality option for a team that isn't looking to break the bank in free agency, but just looking to fill holes.
He Would Relegate Brian Strait
Strait was a huge problem for the Islanders this past season. He played in 52 regular season games and during those games he registered a relative Corsi of -7.62 percent after score adjustments. The Islanders had a 54.66 percent Corsi percentage without him on the ice. With him on the ice that number fell to 48.31 percent; it's a rather atrocious drop that brings back less-than-fond memories of Andrew MacDonald.
Enter Diaz. While Diaz's Corsi percentage was lower than Strait's at 46.28 percent, he was still +2.02 compared to the rest of the team as the Flames were horrible at possession. What's more, Diaz was stuck with Deryk Engelland on Calgary is actually worse than Strait is. With Engelland, Diaz's Corsi fell to 38.6 percent. Without Engelland, it rose to 47.3. The Flames themselves were only around 44.4 percent last season.
Diaz doesn't even need to be a positive possession player for the Islanders. Even if he's an individual who broke even, that would have swayed the Corsi numbers even further to the Islanders side by 110 chances. That's would have been 2.12 chances per game which could have very easily saved home ice for the team.
Diaz certainly isn't the biggest name out there in free agency, but he's a name worth looking at for a team that could use some depth help on defense. He is a player that could fill multiple needs for the Islanders without breaking the bank. It would certainly behoove Garth Snow to take a look at him.