As a reminder to every Islanders fan among us having an hourly heart attack about John Tavares holding court with suitors from around the NHL (a process that should end Wednesday...unless it doesn’t): teams can’t actually sign other teams’ free agents until July 1.
So just as the Islanders were among the teams making pitches for Tavares’ services during this week’s free agent “discussion” period, there are other pending free agents out there receiving flowers from other teams. Those teams include the Islanders, contacting a couple of free agents who would address major needs.
According to reports, one is a guy they know really well. Another is a guy I’ve been touting for much of 2018.
Calvin de Haan
First, for the blueline. The defenseman the Islanders selected in the same round as John Tavares is apparently on the Islanders’ list, along with the lists of as many as 10 other teams, according to a couple of reports.
Calvin de Haan is an interesting case for the Islanders, since he’s been available for signing all season long yet his departure always had a Kyle Okposo-like inevitability to it. Clearly he was going to command market value on the market, and the Islanders under Garth Snow, for whatever reason — perhaps because they have lots of money tied up in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, and lots of years tied up in Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech — seemed content to just let de Haan walk.
Apparently things have changed on that front, at least a little bit, with Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz in the fold.
But complicating things is de Haan’s season-ending shoulder surgery, his third major shoulder injury as an Islanders property. Because of human behavior, when a team has experienced that kind of recurring misfortune they are less inclined to risk repeating it, whereas a different team that has only witnessed de Haan’s best (and healthy) times is more inclined to think it won’t happen to them. (And if it does? “Well, we were only burned once. Not four times.”)
Which means, if a third of the league is interested in his services, de Haan likely won’t have to take an injury discount.
The Islanders under Lamoriello and Trotz better understand that they need to “clean up their back end,” so somewhere they’re going to need to upgrade and/or replace de Haan. Since they are in “compete now” mode, they are less likely to simply count on Devon Toews (also coming off season-ending surgery) or Sebastian Aho to fill the void.
Carter Hutton and the goalies
The pickings are pretty slim on the goalie market. Robin Lehner received no qualifying offer from the Sabres, a pretty damning statement about a goalie they once saw as their future. It’s not that he’s a bad goalie, he’s just a wild card. Jonathan Bernier is coming off a bounce-back year in Colorado, but his ceiling seems pretty established and not terribly impressive.
Carter Hutton, however, is coming off a fantastic year and is limited only by sample size. (Okay, that’s a significant limit when guessing on goalies.) If you were comfortable with the Islanders gambling on Philipp Grubauer as an heir apparent starter, you might feel similar about Hutton, who also has a connection to Trotz and his favored goalie coach Mitch Korn from their Predators days.
Seeing Hutton up close in St. Louis the last two years, he was impressive whenever Blues starter Jake Allen went awry. But despite compiling a .931 save percentage in 32 games last season, Hutton was the pending free agent and de facto “backup” while Allen was the designated starter with the long-term contract.
A combo of Hutton and Thomas Greiss (who I think is a decent bet to bounce back behind a coherent team defense) is what I’d prefer heading into 2018-19 rather than anything involving a trade for Jimmy Howard, or Lehner, or Petr Mrazek (another wild card who’s now pissed off two teams). So I was happy to see Pierre LeBrun reporting the Isles had shown interest in Hutton:
I believe by Monday morning that list had been cut down to six teams and likely in two groups, teams offering a solid No. 2 job and teams offering a chance at competing for the No. 1 job.
Teams I know that reached out to the Hutton camp include Chicago, Buffalo, Carolina and the New York Islanders. Obviously, the Isles, Sabres and Hurricanes can offer a chance at competing for a No. 1 job while the Blackhawks, given the uncertainty with Corey Crawford’s health, can at least offer a solid No. 2, plus who knows.
This is where Trotz’s credibility — and familiarity, in Hutton’s case, unless he didn’t like him — could pay off. Of the three teams mentioned above with definite starter openings, the Islanders may look the most appealing. All three teams are flawed and coming off majorly disappointing seasons, but the Isles have a proven duo at the helm to correct things.
What About Trades?
On the latter topic, I’m not trusting Craig Anderson can recapture his previous highs, though some have suggested him as a trade target for the Islanders.
Meanwhile, a couple of other trade candidates to look out for: Max Pacioretty we’ve already addressed, as reportedly the Islanders and Canadiens were close to a deal at the draft. But it sounds like the Habs are still interested in trading him, so you never know if that talk re-ignites.
If we’re chasing wingers with one year left on their contract, though...reportedly Artemi Panarin has only three metro markets in mind, including New York.
According to Elliotte Friedman (via FRS Hockey):
“I think Panarin has let it be known that his preferred destinations are either Los Angeles, New York, or Florida.
“Now, I had some fans ask me today does New York mean the Rangers or just New York. I think it’s just New York. I think the Rangers and Islanders are probably both in contention there.
Not that he has no-trade protection — and the Blue Jackets would clearly prefer to keep him, and ultimately re-sign him — but it’s interesting that external factors could make the Islanders a preferred destination.