For the second straight year, July 1st ended without Garth Snow improving an Islanders roster that had progressed farther in the playoffs than it had the previous season. Last season, Snow only signed Thomas Greiss, which at the time was just a backup goalie signing. This year, while adding a little more punch, Snow had a lot more to make up for.
Whatever your view is on the signings of Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera (I'm okay with both), they were signings that were necessitated by the loss of Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin. And with no player acquired yet to replace the departing Frans Nielsen, the roster is seemingly worse than it was a couple months ago. With almost all the impact free agents already signed with different teams, it doesn't seem like Snow can do anymore to help the Islanders by way of free agency.
While a trade can always happen, and Snow has surprised before, it looks like management once again will be looking for the Islanders to take the next step by way of improvement from their young, in house players. And if that is the strategy, Snow and company are playing a risky game for 2016-17.
Most teams who find their way to the upper echelon of the NHL do have a young, homegrown core which progresses along with the team to the top of the mountain. But most of those teams also improve their team by adding quality upgrades along the way. It's been a couple seasons now since the Islanders have gone that route.
It's not out of the realm of possibilities that an improvement from the young players alone could help the Islanders make that move towards the Stanley Cup Finals. This past season the team lost a combined 19 goals from Anders Lee and Ryan Strome. If the two forwards could regain their 2014-15 form, that alone would recoup the 20 goals lost from the departure of Nielsen. The defense that Nielsen's void will create may be a little harder to make up for.
Brock Nelson's 26 goals last season were impressive, but he did it while shooting at 15.8% clip. His drop in assists (22 to 14) coupled with his drop in shots on goal (190 to 165) is a bit of a red flag going into next season. If the Islanders don't add another Top 6 forward this offseason, they will once again need Nelson to hit the 25 goal mark. And with a regression towards his previous two seasons' shooting % (10.5) expected, Nelson will need to start getting more shots on net in 2016-17 to be as effective.
And then there is top prospect Mathew Barzal. While the word from most is that Barzal is NHL ready, counting on him to upgrade the team's roster is sketchy. Barzal has all the talent in the world, but he has never played a professional game of hockey, let alone a game against NHL competition. If Barzal does make the roster, expectations should be tempered until proven otherwise.
Where the team should see improvement is from full seasons of Ryan Pulock and the recently re-signed Shane Prince. Both contributed little to the 2015-16 Islanders, so the mere fact that they should be on the roster from start to finish will boost their contributions and improve the Islanders on ice product.
That's a lot of if's going into next season if the plan from Snow and the Islanders is to count on it's homegrown talent's progression. The assets are there to pull off a trade. The question is are their any teams looking to deal the kind of player the Islanders need going forward. Free Agency wasn't the answer. Trusting in the organization to know what they have in their young players may unfortunately be the only option.