It’s not necessarily over -- when you’re in limbo, things are never over, they just carry on in a malaise of perpetuity — but the New York Islanders just had a pretty pivotal two weeks encompassing the expansion draft, NHL draft and free agency.
In case you missed all of it, or some of it (maybe you’re invested in a pennant race? The Confederations Cup?), here’s a quick overview and what it all means.
tl;dr: Some pieces changed and most pieces didn’t. The Isles are still an okay team with some reasons for excitement and some reasons for alarm. Hello bubble, my old friend.
Expansion Draft: THEY KEPT EVERYONE?!
For the last year when things were dull or we wanted to agonize over the future of Ryan Pulock, visitors to Lighthouse Hockey parsed over every possible expansion draft scenario.
It was an exercise in torture: The Islanders were certain to lose one player, by rule, but there were so many desirable players — not saying elite, nor stars here so shut up over there in the “ohhh...Kool-Aid!” corner — that the prospect of losing any specific player opened up a myriad other roster holes and opportunities to make poor decisions.
In the end, Garth Snow and his old pal George McPhee had a deal that really would’ve been nice to know about, like, in January: The Islanders would give the Golden Knights their first-round pick in this summer’s draft, plus signed prospect Jake Bischoff, in exchange for the Knights taking Mikhail Grabovski’s contract and selecting unrestricted free agent third-wheel J-F Berube in the expansion draft.
(It also would’ve been nice to know that weekend before the expansion draft, save us all from losing our lunch over the Islanders’ decision to make Adam Pelech one of their protections.)
This meant no worry about losing Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan or Travis Hamonic, or even Jaroslav Halak. All things considered, pretty friendly terms from Vegas for a mid-first round pick, particularly considering Hamonic was later traded for more than that from the Flames.
(While we’re here, one thing people tend to overlook about that odd protection list: With the existing Berube agreement in place, the Islanders no doubt had conditions in place in case a different team offered Vegas certain parts the Isles desired in exchange for, say, Strome or Hamonic, since McPhee had said he was taking bids on every team’s unprotected players. Unlikely to ever play out, but good to keep options open.)
Vegas, of course, let Berube walk as a free agent, where Chicago signed him. (Bischoff was signed by the Isles in the spring to a two-year ELC.)
After all of the fan angst about both the expansion draft and the somersaults the Isles did to keep Berube on their NHL roster as a third goalie over the last two years, — including pissing off and demoting Jaroslav Halak and (essentially) signing P.A. Parenteau only to waive him at the end of training camp while keeping Mathew Barzal on the roster only to play him twice — it defies words to capture how it feels to see Berube be the player selected in the expansion draft.
Post-Draft, Pre-Draft: Eberle in, Strome and Hamonic out
Keeping all those mid-level regulars allowed the Isles to shop different combos. For a while they were rumored to be targeting both Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers (to accompany John Tavares’ wing) and Matt Duchene of the Avalanche (to provide Tavares support as a second center).
Eberle was the easier target. The Isles landed him for Ryan Strome, straight-up.
Duchene was the Moby Dick. The Isles wouldn’t — and quite possibly couldn’t — meet the Avalanche asking price of a young top four defenseman, a prime prospect, plus more. (Keep in mind Nick Leddy has a no-trade clause and would be counterproductive to trade anyway, and Travis Hamonic is mid-career and good, but not someone you orient a blueline rebuild around.)
But with at least the Flames and Maple Leafs both eager for Hamonic, Snow felt compelled to sell “high” (maybe) on him now. The prospect of James van Riemsdyk — who’d need to waive a no-trade clause anyway — didn’t excite him. Not getting two first-rounders from anyone, he still got a nice package of futures from the Flames.
Of course, if Snow is unable to do anything with that return this summer, then they remain that: futures. If that’s how the summer plays out, the Islanders lost one of their top-four defenseman, albeit the weakest one coming off a poor and injury-riddled season, for nothing on the current roster.
They don’t feel able to make that trade without trusting in the development of Devon Toews and of course Pulock and last year’s youngsters Pelech and Scott Mayfield. Not to mention restored faith, one would hope, in Thomas Hickey, who was scratched an awkward amount late last season.
(This is probably the right time to remind you that the Islanders re-signed Dennis Seidenberg to a one-year, $1.25 million deal back in late April.)
Free Agency: No one
With a roster full of contracts — after years of finding value plays, the Islanders have suffered from an abundance of “loyalty” overpays to current roster forwards — the Isles weren’t expected to chase nor land any of the big names from this summer’s admittedly not-sexy free agent class.
Kevin Shattenkirk was never a thought — his destiny to go to his childhood fan club, the Rangers, goes back to the signing of his previous RFA contract with the Blues — and there was no fit on the player’s end for hot-but-aging names like Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau. Alexander Radulov? Jaromir Jagr? Not on the radar.
One brand name the Isles were actually linked to was former Doug Weight and Andrew Ladd teammate Justin Williams, though it’s unclear whether the interest was truly mutual. Williams signed at a hefty $4.5 million on a short two-yaer deal with the Hurricanes — where he won a Cup with Weight and Ladd — and that was that.
The Isles appeared to show zero interest in the league’s newly free agent buyout victims, such as Beniot Pouliot, Scott Hartnell and Mike Cammalleri. In theory, all of that is good news for youngsters Josh Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.
At the AHL and maybe-callup level, the Isles signed Devils blueline hulk Seth Hegelson, and gave Kane Lafranchise his first NHL/AHL deal, and at the strictly AHL level they signed Barzal’s WHL Seattle running mate Scott Eansor and flipped winger Carter Verhaeghe (one of the many anonymous pieces in the Grabner salary dump) to Tampa Bay for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.
We’ll give you a moment to digest the significance of those moves.
Which brings us to what’s still to come. We’ll go by ascending order of importance:
Ilya Sorokin isn’t coming over next year, and maybe never. I was taken aback by how surprising and earth-shattering this seemed to be to some (#IslesTwitter, 2017), but goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin reworked and extended his existing contract in the KHL to 2020.
On the surface, it says he’s not coming over for a while — we already knew it would be 2018-19 at the very earliest — but in the context of KHL players who lack guaranteed spots awaiting them in the NHL, it’s not a shocking decision for a 21-year-old goalie. Of course, if he one day stays in Russia for good, we’ll look back on this as a pivotal moment. But the options and decisions for such players are simply too fluid from year to year to rule anything either way today.
Two more blueline contracts to go: Two factors that may affect their next series of moves, or rather ability to make moves: Calvin de Haan and Adam Pelech are both due new contracts as restricted free agents.
Pelech’s shouldn’t be of any significance to the cap. De Haan’s will be, even if they get him signed on the low end for a short-term deal that takes him to unrestricted free agency.
The Franchise Still Isn’t Re-Signed: Ooooh, that. The Islanders and John Tavares each did a good job priming the national media landscape to not expect him to sign a big extension on July 1, the first day upon which the two parties could officially do so.
Surprisingly, the media kind of layed off that topic in the 72 hours around July 1. Meanwhile, Tavares’ eternal destiny landing spot, Toronto, just signed Marleau for nearly $7 million through the next three seasons, all but officially removing the Leafs as a possibility.
But Carey Price, the other franchise player whose contract was set to expire in summer 2018, just finalized a mega eight-year extension with the Canadiens on Sunday.
Which means for much of the summer, all eyes on Tavares and the Islanders, but for all the annoying reasons and none of the fun ones.