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Islanders Tea Leaves: The Grabovski question, Pulock protection, Barzal projection

Newsday's Islanders beat writer interrupted summer doldrums to answer some Twitter questions.

"Is it October yet?"
"Is it October yet?"
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When the dog days of summer hit and the primary news is political convention grandstanding and general societal tension, a hockey fan begs for some diversion, some team news, some anything.

But there isn't any. Nonetheless, can't blame a gal for asking.

Arthur Staple, Newsday's Islanders beatwriter (and still the only major outlet to cover the team home and road, all year long), struck up one of his periodic Q&A with fans.

As Staple cautioned, there's nothing happening with the Isles at this point. But he shared information and opinions you might have previously missed.

Grabovski: In 'Pronger/Savard Territory?'

One of the big questions as we project the roster for next season is what to make of Mikhail Grabovski. If he's healthy, then that's a crowded forward corps on one-way contracts and it's tough to see where prospect Mathew Barzal fits in.

But that's a big if.

That's a reference to Marc Savard and Chris Pronger, who have essentially retired but not officially -- and thus are still paid -- due to similar concussion issues. Grabovski's recurring issues make him a risk even if he is deemed healthy at some point in the next year.

Do note, however, that while Savard and Pronger have been traded to get their large cap hit off the books of cap-max teams, that's a much taller order to achieve with Grabovski. Pronger and Savard's contracts severely backdived, meaning the final years of their long-term deals require much less actual cash paid than their cap hits, (In a mechanism outlawed under the current CBA signed in 2013, each literally went from $7 million+ salaries to $575,000 salaries at the end).

Grabovski is the opposite: His actual salary increases over the life of the four-year contract, with him due $5 million this coming season and $6 million in 2017-18. That's not the kind of contract a budget team will want to take on in trade. So if you're saying, "Why can't they just move it?" well, it's not so easy.

And that may be part of the reason there are conflicting reports about his health. Different sides have different reasons to say "still hope!" vs. "he's done."

Regardless, assuming continued injury, he could be placed on LTIR as Pronger once was in Philadelphia if the Isles need the cap room for an in-season addition. That carries its own risk if Grabovski returns to health and thus removes the LTIR cap cushion.

Pulock and the Expansion Draft

I've seen this debated a few times around here, with some interesting arguments about Pulock's age and the CBA definition of a "pro" player, but the prevailing word stands: Ryan Pulock must either be protected or exposed in next summer's expansion draft.

Fill out your 11-month-premature protection lists accordingly.

Barzal: In Brooklyn Next Season?

Ah, but we mentioned Barzal in the context of Grabovski. If Grabovski isn't ready yet, that creates more room to at least try Barzal in the NHL before deciding whether to return him to WHL juniors. (By rule he can't yet play in the AHL.)

It's just "a hunch," but that's why we call these tea leaves. He impressed last training camp, the signs are there for him to have the best prospect shot of cracking the lineup, at least for a bit.

The Hamonic Leak

This one is probably already widely suspected, but Staple said the Isles do know who leaked Travis Hamonic's trade request to media last fall, when clearly the Islanders and Hamonic wished it to be kept confidential as the Islanders browsed for possibilities to move Hamonic closer to family in poor health.

Who was it?

Guess away, guess away.

Goalie Crowd, JT and the GM, Brooklyn Ice, Strome

Those were some of the more interesting topics, though others came up, like:

  • the three-way goalie crowd (again, nothing new, Staple still figures Jaroslav Halak is most likely to be moved, if healthy)
  • whether he thinks John Tavares has much say in who Garth Snow signs ("I do not, no")
  • the Ryan Strome contract talks (no current reason for alarm, these often go till late summer a la Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey)

...and ownership talk, which again has not changed since Jon Ledecky's personal intro to media and fans last week: He wants to win, he's willing to spend, but it's way too early to know how impatient he'll be.

Check the rest of the questions and answers on Staple's feed @StapeNewsday.

And now, back to ranting and raving (but not here please, or at least not about non-hockey things)...