While on a flight to warm, sunny Tampa yesterday, Newsday Islanders beat writer Arthur Staple answered questions from fans via Twitter. In that time, he illuminated the status of a key unrestricted free agent, gave us insight into the thoughts of a struggling player and blew our minds with a possible move no one saw coming.
The full threads can be found here and here. As always, we thank Arthur for his time and apologize in advance for the explosion of his Twitter mentions as a result of this.
Thanks to Keith for the title inspiration.
First, the big one. When answering questions about the solid play of new back-up goalie Jean-Francois Berube, Staple let us know that he feels Berube might be around a lot longer, maybe at the shocking expense of injured incumbent Jaroslav Halak.
@JoshElkin I don't think Halak will play another game for the Isles.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@zachholzer4 Cost, work habits, injuries— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@brettborz Could see him being moved to whoever will have him.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@J_ferns97 I could see him and Greiss splitting games next season. Or I could see Berube grabbing the reins. Kid works his rear end off.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
Lot to unpack here. First, Staple sees basically every Islanders practice, so when he says Berube works his ass off, I'm inclined to believe him. Second, by his own admission (see below), Staple isn't the Islanders general manager so this is his speculation, probably based on what he hears around the team or his own gut feeling.
Having said all that, at first blush this sounds bananas. Berube's NHL career is all of five games at this point. He's played well in those games, going 2-1-1 with a .929 save percentage. But, still. It's, like, five games. That's not even a small sample size. It's really no sample size, especially for a goalie.
Meanwhile, Halak is 56-30-8 with a .916 save percentage in 95 games with the Islanders. He set the team's single season victories record with 38 last season and has generally played well in the last two years. He's shockingly consistent in his career, with save percentages of .919, .916 and .916 in his three longest term stops. He carries a $4.5 cap hit for the next two seasons and is currently out 6-8 weeks with a lower-body injury. Halak has battled health issues throughout his career, in particular in St. Louis.
Those last couple of items are the key reasons why a trade might make sense. Halak's numbers and play have been fine, with the high point coming during last year's playoff series against the Capitals. But if management has become concerned about his injuries or attitude, he could end up being the odd man out.
Freeing up over $4 million under the cap could also mean the difference of adding (Or keeping. See below again) another player. Moving a starter with a reasonable, short contract to a goalie-starved team could mean getting a quality player back. Or the Islanders could make Halak part of a larger blockbuster along with Travis Hamonic (whose trade request is still pending) or someone else they're ready to move on from.
Thomas Greiss has put up very good numbers this season in what's become a 1B role. Like Halak last season, he's playing extended minutes for the first time in his career. If Berube is the real deal, those two can theoretically carry the load. And the best part would be not having a three-goalie rotation, which Halak was apparently not a fan of.
It's a crazy notion packed with a lot of "If." But it's also the kind of bold move Islanders fans have been begging Garth Snow to make since the summer. It includes a player no one expected, but if it brings back the type of player the Islanders need to make the leap to true contender status, it could be the right one.
Still... it's crazy. Right? I don't even know.
* * *
Okay, back to Earth. Staple also fielded questions about the status of UFAs Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin. He laid out the probabilities of each returning before shedding a little light on the team's thoughts on Okposo.
@brettborz 21 -- 10-15%... 51 -- 75-80%... 17 -- 50%— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@dpavlicek I think it's less the money than the term. He's get 7 years in FA for sure. Isles don't want to commit that long.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@JHallstein 7 year term is prohibitive.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
The issue of term is a new one in the Okposo Walk Year Saga. We've assumed this entire season that Okposo will price himself off the Islanders at his first chance to cash in with a fat free agent contract. But if Okposo is more interested in term, then maybe the Islanders can find a happy middle ground between years and money to keep him.
The Islanders might be reluctant to go seven years because Okposo is already 27. He's only had two big injuries in his career, and both were of the freaky variety. He missed half a season with a shoulder injury in 2010-11 and had that scary eye injury last year that kept him out for a month after the All Star break.
Regardless, this is the first new info we've had for a while on the Okposo front. There haven't been any reports of any negotiations dating back to the trade deadline, so it might not amount to anything in the long run.
* * *
Ryan Strome has had a rough sophomore season (spoofed by some idiot here) and Staple offered his theory on why Strome is struggling and what could be next for him.
@jeff25624 Lack of confidence. You can see it when he turns away from scoring chances.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@RTaub_ Costing himself some dough on his next contract.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@rustymac26 If Strome holds out after the season he's had, GS will dive into the Milbury quote machine for some doozies.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
It's here that we'll once again mention that Strome is all of 22-years-old and still trying to find his way as an NHL player, both physically and emotionally. Needless to say, the Islanders are going to need Strome to become a more consistent player offensively if they're going to both be successful.
There's still time for him to sort things out in the long run, but getting some confidence this season is the first hurdle.
* * *
As usual, a Staple Q&A means questions about all kinds of stuff. For once, this was light on the Brian Strait questions. Thanks for blowing the shutout, garik.
@BrianWerbeck He definitely seems stuck in his head, like a few of his teammates.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@KeithLHHockey Little of both. Don't think there's long-term concern about 91 the way there is with some of the linemates.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@garik16 You're a complicated man, my friend... I don't think he'll be back. I think 14 fills that spot next season.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@KlimbergNHL Yes and yes. Maybe Bailey as well.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@allhailthebails BPT first for both. Barzal has a shot to make the roster next year, provided he works his behind off this summer.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@Bageloid They'd go to BPT. I could see Barzal coming straight to the big club if Seattle gets bounced quickly.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016
@flanoddo If it was me, I'd do Hamonic for Hall the first day of the offseason. But they don't take my advice much (which is smart)— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 24, 2016