By Brian Monzo
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Considering the Islanders have not been a very successful franchise the past few seasons, they find themselves in a pretty good spot heading into the offseason and free agency. They are coming off another good draft, adding a potential superstar center in Ryan Strome and plenty of defensive depth.
When the salary cap was set to $64.3 million this month (with a cap floor at $48.3 million), every team established their offseason plans, as well as their “what they can do, and what they cannot do” mindset. The Islanders currently have 17 players under contract and are still paying Brendan Witt and Alexei Yashin’s buyouts. They have just over $27 million to play with (they are just under $12 million of the floor), so after re-signing their restricted free agents, a handful of moves will be made.
Rick DiPietro is signed (obviously), and late-season acquisition Al Montoya re-upped after playing well for New York — that figures to be the Isles’ 1-2 goalie situation. The team is very high on goalie Kevin Poulin, who played well before going down with season ending surgery. With DiPietro basically day-to-day for the rest of his career, having a third goalie ready is essential.
The Islanders have tendered qualifying offers to Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau, Michael Haley, Jesse Joensuu, Dylan Reese and Ty Wishart. No real surprises there.
I’d expect veteran defenseman and unrestricted free agent Radek Martinek to sign elsewhere. Tough guy Zenon Konokpa was held onto at the trade deadline, so you have to think they are going to do what they can to bring him him back.
Their big gun forwards Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson are all locked up long-term, and John Tavares is entering the last season of his entry level contract. After missing all of last season, defenseman Mark Streit is still signed for two more seasons with their defense set up with a mixed bag of youngsters and journeymen vets.
When July 1st hits this Friday, there are three players the Islanders need to take a serious look at: Brendan Morrison, Steve Sullivan and Paul Mara.
When Doug Weight retired and became an assistant coach and special adviser to GM Garth Snow, a huge sense of leadership was lost on the team. Sure, Streit and Okposo are leaders and one will likely be the captain, but this is a very young team and the locker room needs a few savvy vets to look up to. All three of these players fit that bill.
Brendan Morrison is coming off of a 43-point season in Calgary. He is not going to score 20 goals, or set up 50, but he is a reliable center who could play with Tavares, Moulson and Grabner. All three could use what Morrison brings to the table both on and off the ice. He still sees plays develop and could help on the power-play unit. He has close to 600 NHL points, and at 35-years-old would likely sign a one-year contract worth $2 million.
Steve Sullivan is one of the best heart and soul guys in the league. At 37, he could still put up 40-50 points, can still skate and could provide secondary offense. With the Predators announcing he won’t be re-signed, the Islanders would be smart to aggressively pursue the 2009 Masterton Trophy Winner. He may be looking for a contract worth $2.5 million, and he’d be worth every penny.
The Islanders’ defense is their low point. Streit is 33 and youngsters Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are still finding their ways. 2009 1st round pick Calvin De Haan may be given a serious look, but the Islanders need some proven depth. Paul Mara immediately comes to mind. He is proven to be able to play in this area after a few decent seasons with the Rangers. He is proven to play with youngsters, as he was Marc Staal’s defensive partner for sometime. He also has a quiet-but-effective mean streak that will help a team trying to compete in the East. He could be had for $1.5 million.
As you can see, none of these players are premier free agents, but any of the three would be helpful to the young, close-to-being-good New York Islanders.
Follow me on Twitter as free agency gets closer: BMonzoNHL660
Islanders fans: who should your team go after? Let Monzo know in the comments below…