Islanders

Capellini: Islanders Make Smart Decisions In Early Stages Of Free Agency

GM Snow Makes Team Tougher, Has Eyes On Bigger Fish Going Forward
Matt Carkner

The Islanders signed rugged defenseman Matt Carkner to a three-year, $4.5 million contract on July 1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — After just one day of the NHL’s annual spending spree, the natural impulse for Islanders fans is to roll their eyes and mutter to their friends that, as usual, there’s nothing to see here.

Well, they’d be wrong to take that stance this time.

What we all saw on Sunday was the Islanders be, for them, quite aggressive. Not so much in their attempts to lure free agents to Long Island, because, contrary to popular belief, they have been aggressive before, but because they had some of their main targets actually say “yes.” Results make apparent aggression appear more justified. That’s just the way of the world.

Now, you could sit there and say, “Brad Boyes? Big deal.” “Matt Carkner? Who cares?” “Eric Boulton? Who?” And, of course, that would be a familiar refrain.

But the truth of the matter is GM Garth Snow had specific players in mind to fit specific roles and, as far as he and the rest of the Islanders’ brain trust is concerned, the front office was successful on the opening day of free agency. But more on each of those players in a minute.

The more pressing concern for the fan base is the loss of extremely popular and productive P.A. Parenteau, who departed for Colorado after getting four years and $16 million.

Look, at the end of the day Parenteau was a really good player during his short stay on the Island. He did everything asked of him and gave the fans hope that this team would be more than just John Tavares and Matt Moulson on offense. But no matter how much you wanted him back and Parenteau reportedly wanted to come back, his ship sailed the second he announced he’d be testing the unrestricted free agency waters. The fact is he’s 29 years old, a truth that’s lost on many because he’s only been in the league on a full-time basis for a few years. Sunday may have been the only real pay day he’ll ever see. One cannot blame him for trying to get every last dollar he thinks he’s worth.

And from an Islanders perspective, they simply couldn’t throw that much money and years to a player who, let’s face it, would have been sort of an elder statesman on a team whose core is very young. The Islanders could not pay him more annually than Moulson, a player who has proven to be an absolute steal in every aspect and has quietly positioned himself as one of the best goal scorers in the NHL.

Now I realize Parenteau is a rare breed — a play-making winger who amassed 82 assists over the previous two seasons, but please keep in mind he did the bulk of that point-producing playing with Tavares and Moulson. The Avalanche need to learn and learn quickly that Parenteau doesn’t really create his own offense. They better play him with Matt Duchene, or else they will be looking at a 40-50-point player instead of a guy potentially pushing 75 points. They also better get his temper under wraps, because Parenteau often took terrible penalties, the types that probably ruined any shot of the Islanders had of pulling out points in a handful of games. And since there is a fine line between the top eight in a conference and ninth or 10th place, points are a rare commodity and keeping his emotions in check is something he needs to work on.

But enough about Parenteau. He’s gone. Bon voyage.

What the Islanders did — and planned to do all along — was try to alleviate some of the scoring that was inevitably going to leave with Parenteau.

Enter Boyes on a “prove it” one-year, $1 million deal. Now, some will look at his recent production and see very little, but the guy was a bad fit up in Buffalo, and not because of his mental makeup. If you are wondering what the Islanders hope to get from him, think back to 2007-’08 and ’08-’09 when, as a member of the St. Louis Blues, he had a combined 76 goals and 137 points, including a 43-goal campaign during the first of those two seasons.

Boyes figures to be a nice piece on Tavares’ wing. He’s a hard-nosed player, but with touch. He can create and has decent size, strength and speed.

That’s not to say Boyes will replace Parenteau, but some combination of him and Kyle Okposo should go a long way toward filling the points gap left behind.

The Islanders actually struck quickly Sunday, signing three of their targets inside of five hours. In addition to Boyes, they went a long way toward becoming tougher. They added Carkner, a potential third-pairing defenseman who is both big and nasty on the ice and revered in the locker room, for three years and $4.5 million, and then grabbed enforcer Eric Boulton, who should make up for the losses of Trevor Gillies and Michael Haley without a problem, for reportedly $550,000.

Again, these are not sexy signings, but from budgetary and philosophy standpoints they fit what the Islanders are trying to do to enhance the rebuild.

More importantly, these types of character signings suggest that Snow is, in his own way, stating his own urgency. The Islanders’ biggest problem in 2011-12 wasn’t offense or defense per se. It was knowing how to win. That’s something you can’t teach but can improve by bringing in role-playing veterans that exude a certain type of confidence and aura, even if their names aren’t necessarily on the Stanley Cup.

And this team is not done tinkering. The Islanders made a pitch to Bryce Salvador, a responsible defenseman who emerged as a reliable offensive player as well during the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, but he informed them Monday night he was not interested. The snub isn’t a big deal considering Salvador was angling to play for a contender anyway. The vast majority of remaining free agents are just waiting for the big dominoes — as in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — to make their decisions so the market can be set.

Right now, the Islanders are looking at a defense corps featuring Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic, traded for Lubomir Visnovsky and Andrew MacDonald in the top four, and some combination of Carkner and youngsters Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan and former first-round pick Calvin de Haan, assuming he’s ready. Though the Isles could probably use one more veteran, that unit is still much better than what the team threw out on the ice last season.

It is also believed that the Islanders have spoken to Anaheim at length about Bobby Ryan, the type of power forward this team desperately needs.

And that brings us to the most important catalyst for hastening the rebuild: the trade route. The Islanders are loaded with young talent organizationally. Forget what’s transpired at the NHL level for a second. Through years of stockpiling early round picks and trading for other young pieces, the Islanders, whether they be on the big club, down at Bridgeport or elsewhere, do have the types of commodities that can be used to package to the right team for the right player.

Is Ryan that player? Sure. But the Ducks have been coy about his availability and have shifted their focus to addressing other players they need to re-sign. The Islanders would clearly benefit more than most teams from a new CBA being hammered out. Once that’s the case they can really think about shopping the young talent that most experts agree is among the best in the NHL.

And then there’s the Charles Wang factor. Long has it been known that this owner has set the salary cap floor as his franchise’s spending ceiling. It’s a harsh reality for this fan base. But, if indeed he’s still sticking to that plan, the Islanders still have plenty of wiggle room. On Sunday they spent roughly $3 million for three players next season and still have a decent amount of room to get up to the assumed $54.2 million floor, which they will do without a problem.

The question is: will they go a little further?

Obviously, the Islanders also have in-house issues to deal with that will eat up more cash, but I still wonder if Wang might push the spending if the right player comes along. After all, in his own cloak-and-dagger way he’s intimated that the playoffs have to happen. Snow, while not coming out and stating it’s playoffs or bust, is reacting like someone who is thinking just that. Could Wang loosen the purse strings a little? I suppose it’s possible, but, again, the absolute right fit — be it through free agency or the trade route — has to be staring the Islanders in the face.

The Islanders will not look vastly different come the fall, but they should be more sound, especially in their own end. I will stand by the belief that a trigger could be pulled to improve this team offensively, but I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

We all know better than to do that, but it remains a possibility.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet

Are you happy with how free agency has gone so far with the Islanders? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …