Gallof: Islanders To Try Hard, But Free Agency Will Be Like The Wild West
By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The Islanders have had a cap floor budget for almost a year now. I have learned that the bridles of that budget might be less restrictive for some free agency targets.
The mantra is to win, and win now. General manager Garth Snow went into the draft with this philosophy and put spoons into quite a few pots. However, in the end, the Islanders only made one deal for a key offensive defenseman and then drafted seven defenseman for the future.
The well-regarded Griffin Reinhart is still years away from playing with the Islanders, and perhaps that’s why there were rumors of Snow putting together some packages to move up to get the NHL-ready Ryan Murray.
Those endless rumors were all amazingly told to everyone and anyone who would listen in Columbus by the Blue Jacket organization once the story was gamely broken by the Columbus Dispatch’s very solid Aaron Portzline. However, it was ignored by the Islanders with basically a no comment, which I broke on Twitter on Monday.
I was told that despite that pile-on and myriad of confirmations by the hockey media at large that all seemed to confirm the draft floor hearsay, those close to the team said the offer was “greatly exaggerated.”
“It is easy to say something that can’t/won’t be refuted,” a source said.
What I find hilarious is that reports have Snow saying he was looking to move up to get Murray. Oh, he said what he was going to do, really? This, from a guy highly secretive, and views the draft as a war with his rebuild war party?
I personally find this, above all else the Islanders offering their draft, hard to believe.
It is feasible that the Islanders would either have rolled the dice on Alex Galchenyuk or were so fearful of what Montreal would do, they would have moved up to assure Reinhart was theirs. Or, they were convinced that it was worth the assured probability that Murray is top-pairing NHL quality. Reinhart is considered a lock at least as a top 3 defenseman with an upside of being potentially one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Murray might have an edge on being a top 2 lock and is on an accelerated track to greatness.
In hindsight, would that have been worth a hefty offer to Columbus GM Scott Howson, who in turn possibly could have commented to his table that the Islanders had just offered the moon and stars?
Historically, the Islanders’ system has been all about probability, and Murray could have been worth the extra picks just to make sure that it was a “can’t miss” pick. That is possible.
However, take that for what it’s worth. I do remind everyone that the only two people who can or may confirm what was actually spoken between the two beyond any hearsay and endless conjecture are not talking about it. Howson and Snow have offered no on-the-record comments.
Unfortunately, this has left others to determine the discourse, kind of like what happened with the Lighthouse Project. The media just ate up the supposed “Murray offer,” including having one of hockey’s best, Elliotte Friedman, putting out a sharp piece about how the Islanders’ purported offer makes sense in lieu of draft values.
The fact is the Islanders had many offers and possibilities before and during the draft in Pittsburgh. Lots of options were discussed between them and other teams, including some about established players. However, as I’ve warned here and on Twitter, the probability remained large that the Islanders would remain at No. 4 and that is what they did.
The Islanders also seemed to be poised to try to get back into the first round, perhaps because forwards like Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen fell from their expected positions.
Just perhaps, the many who were projecting that the Islanders would be all about defense throughout the draft were, in fact, misled. It was just that the right forward, according to their draft blueprint, was not available for them to again roll the dice to come up and get.
The Burning Desire To Win
What we did learn about the Islanders on draft day, in addition to all the wheeling and dealing they attempted to do, was their fierce push for an immediate on-ice turnaround. It lends itself to a clear intention that might present a stronger hand on making offers during the unrestricted free agency signing period, which begins Sunday.
Islanders fans know well the disappointments of free agency as the team has had difficulty attracting top-tier talent to help give the rebuild a spark. Calls to agents for players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis only led to frustration.
Still, the likelihood this time around that the Islanders will make offers to top-tier UFAs like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter seem rather far fetched because top contenders, like Pittsburgh, have clear space to make a run at both. However, do not be surprised to hear or see the Islanders competing for second-tier players in order to upgrade positions.
It is very clear that the organization will want to get better now on the blue line. Expect the Islanders to go hard at an underrated defender like Florida’s Jason Garrison. A steady and experienced defenseman like a Bryce Salvador could be coveted as well.
But please keep in mind that price tags are already quite out of whack thanks to a $26.5 million, five-year deal Calgary gave Dennis Wideman. For the Islanders, it will be an uphill battle to land top- and second-tier defensemen. This pretty much assures that the Islanders are going to need to pick their targets carefully, sell the organization and Long Island as best they can, and pray for a little luck.
The same will go for depth defensemen if all else fails. A free agent like Hal Gill could help steady the blue line, and help mentor some kids that will come up over the next few seasons.
Outside of Parise, there is a sharp fall off in talent and it is unclear if the Islanders will look for a top 6 from that thin list. However, a shot at a player like Ray Whitney is not out of the question. Another potential option might be Brad Boyes, who had a miserable 2011-12 season in Buffalo, but has been a 30-goal scorer in the past. Alexei Ponikarovsky of the Devils also could be worth a shot.
This type of under-the-radar move at forward is possible, but when Doug Jones of the Avalanche, a player who had half the stats of P.A. Parenteau last season, gets $4 million per year for four years, you can understand why Parenteau has sailed off into the sunset looking for his riches.
A bottom 6 forward is certainly possible as well because the Islanders can use a gritty and two-way upgrade.
Don’t expect miracles, especially in this tough market, but expect something from Snow, a man who is looking to take a shot, and an owner in Charles Wang who seems to be acknowledging the urgency and pressure from fans, not to mention the franchise’s arena uncertainty looming in 2015 when the lease in Nassau County ends.
Read more columns by B.D. Gallof and follow him on Twitter at @BDGallof.
Islanders fans are used to free agency heartbreak, but is this the year they break through? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …