By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
Mark Streit embodied much of what the Islanders envisioned during a time when the product on the ice struggled to take the next step. Now that the team has turned a corner, the combination of the captain’s deteriorating defensive skills, age, and salary demands has led to his value not being what it once was.
Streit will not return to the Island next season.
The initial reaction to this has not been unexpected. Many saw what Streit did in the playoffs and would have welcomed him back. Others knew how much of a liability he had become in his own end, but still would have liked to see him come back because of his propensity for producing points.
But most everyone has been in agreement — you can’t give a 35-year-old defenseman on the down side the years and money he reportedly wanted when the franchise is transitioning from the pre-playoff days to what many believe could be a very long run of playoff seasons.
It is believed Streit wanted three years at north of $5.5 million per, but the Isles wanted to keep Streit in line with what Lubomir Visnovsky got when he signed his two-year, $9.5 million extension during the regular season. Streit recently turned down the Isles’ top offer of reportedly three years and $4.75 million per, and, as we have learned, when general manager Garth Snow makes a top offer there are no additional top offers.
My belief is the Islanders were more than fair to Streit with their offer, but at the same time one cannot blame Streit for seeing the end and wanting one last big payday no matter how excessive his desires were viewed by the team. I don’t even agree with the Isles offering the third year because it’s almost guaranteed Streit’s defensive production will continue to go south.
Simply, the combination of player and team no longer fit like a corner puzzle piece. It was time to move on.
During his five years with the Islanders, of which he played only four due to a vicious training camp shoulder injury that wiped out his 2010-11 season, Streit was one of the better offensive defensemen in the sport, amassing 40 goals and 139 assists, plus a penchant for being big on the power play and in open ice at even strength.
But he was never a top quality defensive player, and as the elder statesman on a team of kids he needed to be more of a reliable force in his own end, especially considering the Isles’ now apparent issues in goal. After the shoulder injury he never really reverted to what he was defensively prior to the injury. Again, he wasn’t a great pure defenseman before, so it stands to reason as he creeps toward 40 he won’t show significant signs of improvement.
The Islanders have finally put themselves in a position mentally to be big offseason players, and you better believe this summer will go a long way toward determining what 2013-14 will look like. What’s more, moves made in the immediate future will almost certainly impact 2014-15, the final season at Nassau Coliseum before the official move to Brooklyn.
Even before Streit turned down Snow’s final and best offer, the Islanders needed a big stay-at-home defenseman, a righty shooting upgrade over Brad Boyes to play with John Tavares and an upgrade over Evgeni Nabokov in net if they are to take the next step, one that carries them deeper into the playoffs.
While there’s no guarantee owner Charles Wang will green light significant spending, in my opinion he has to understand the need for this team to be much better than it is now heading into a new arena and the possibilities that can come on the revenue end if the team is closer to being serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Even with Streit’s impending departure, nothing has changed. The Isles did not need to have carbon copies of the same player in the first D-unit, which is what Streit and Visnovsky were, but the difference is Visnovsky can be Streit offensively, especially on the power play, and is the far superior defensive player.
A few years ago the Islanders dedicated basically an entire draft to defensemen, and many of them, along with others either drafted earlier or acquired along the way, are almost ready to step into roles with the big club. Only Griffin Reinhardt may truly end up being a top-pairing player, but the Isles can plug holes with players like Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness in the short term, and Scott Mayfield down the road. Or, perhaps, they could use some of their countless assets to trade for a big time guy to patrol in their own end.
Free agency this summer will not be loaded with top quality defensemen, but because the NHL salary cap is coming down to $64 million from $70 million many teams will find themselves in cap hell, forced to jettison players that normally they would want to keep.
The Islanders are in no such position, and stand to be the beneficiaries of finding the right trading partners and/or signing players either bought out or not brought back due to financial constraints of their previous owners.
As it stands right now, the Islanders have to spend north of $13 million just to get to the cap floor for 2013-14, and that does not include what they are paying marooned goaltender Rick DiPietro. They can address some of what they need with that money, but they also have to make decisions on five restricted free agents, including young star defenseman Travis Hamonic and valuable forward Josh Bailey, plus eight of their own unrestricted free agents. Odds are if they want to seriously upgrade this team to the point where they are better on paper than they were this past season, they’ll need to think about getting above the floor.
It’s time for Wang to do it. At this point the draft is about organizational depth, not finding somewhat immediate fixes to needs. The Islanders simply have to go the trade route or take dips in the free agency pool and pay within reason players that will make them better.
The rebuild as you know it should be over. The question remains, is Wang ready to accept reality?
Only he knows. And good luck getting him to tell you.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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