Friday was a pretty active day for the Islanders. The day started with the announcement that Brendan Witt was put on unconditional waivers. Basically, any team can pick him up and have the Isles pay the salary, but it would not count against their cap. However, none of that will likely matter as he will pass waivers and once that happens, is expected to be bought out.
It's tough to see a player, especially a fan favorite fall so far so quickly. Witt was a warrior here on the Island, a hard-nosed defensemen we have rarely seen here. But you could see that he has been downhill ever since signing the three year extension a couple of years ago. Witt was due $2.5 million next season ($3 million cap hit). The cap hit after the buyout will be $1.3 million for the upcoming season and $833,333 in 2011-2012. I personally hope that Brendan gets scooped up by a team somewhere for the league minimum and can be a part time contributor to a Stanley Cup contender.
Prior to Witt being bought out, the Islanders had eight defensemen on one-way contracts and it appeared that they were set with what they would go into the season with. But many fans, myself included, learned why it makes no sense to declare a team "done" on July 30th.
In the last few posts, I've talked extensively (and repeated myself, at times) at all the options for the Islanders should they look to improve the team. I recalled Garth Snow telling us at prospect camp that he wouldn't rule out a trade. Well, he kept his word.
Snow was able to land James Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks for just a 3rd rounder. Earlier in the day, Wisniewski had avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Ducks.
Wisniewski had a very strong year last year, logging 24 minutes of ice time a game and finishing the year with 30 points, 102 blocked shots and 129 hits. Some of you may remember Wisniewski from this play that he was suspended from last year in response to a dirty hit just moments earlier from Keither Seabrook on Cory Perry:
Going into even more details about the benefits of the deal, one has to consider that Wisniewski is a right handed defenseman, which the Isles sorely lacked. He played on the second PP unit a lot in Anaheim, and realistically here he can quarterback the first unit with Mark Streit, and move Kyle Okposo off the point and back to his regular position. It is not inconceivable for Wisniewski to get 35-40 points this year. On a one year deal, should things go south the Islanders could always move him at the deadline, and they would most certainly get much more than a 3rd round conditional pick. The hope obviously is that the Islanders will be able to sign him long term as he is young (26) and fits in perfectly here.
For the upcoming season, everyone on the Islanders defensive depth chart gets pushed down a rung (with the exception of Streit) to roles that they are much more suited for, and keeps Calvin deHaan in juniors and Travis Hamonic in Bridgeport to start the year. The Islanders have a top four that they can now mix and match as they please. Take one quick glance at the new-look blueline with the three newcomers and you see a much better group that last year. The defense is definitely one that can compete for a playoff spot now.
Wisniewski fills every need that the team had left on the blueline: tough, hard nosed, minute-eating workhorse and a good puck mover. He does a little of everything good and still has some potential. The Ducks had other plans, and according to GM Bob Murray they offered him a four year contract at the deadline, but not for the money Wisniewski was seeking. The one year deal for this year was a compromise of sorts. The Anaheim blueline is dangerously thin right now, and very raw. The only 2 experienced NHL defensemen there are Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman. I think they are going to push hard to bring in Tomas Kaberle or Sheldon Souray.
Earlier in the day, Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Islanders had interest in free agent center Eric Belanger, and were asking the Wild about what they liked in his three years of service there. With the amount of centers already on this team (it isn't set in stone that Josh Bailey is a winger), it certainly seemed a bit odd. Newsday's Katie Strang later said that Belanger was close to signing with a team, but it wasn't the Isles. Many other speculated that the interest in Belanger, as well as new Tampa Bay Lightning center Dominic Moore, meant that the Isles were possibly looking at dealing one. But the trade for a defenseman did not come at the expense of a center.
All of that activity makes one believe that the Islanders are not quite done yet. Here on July 31, one would be foolish to declare them done. Although they are now at the cap floor with Doug Weight yet to sign, I will be a little surprised if they don't bring in one more forward somehow. My gut tells me that at this point they might look to make a trade for someone who makes a decent salary for a very short term and needs a change of scenery (the Blues Brad Boyes?) rather than sign one of the remaining forwards. The offense is not too bad believe it or not, just inexperienced and with a few unknowns. It is not as bad as it was in past years. Adding one good top six winger to the team makes it a strong bottom seed playoff team for sure.
We'll all have to be sure to stay tuned as August begins. We really don't know what the Islanders could be cooking up as the Wisniewski deal seemingly came out of no where. I don't think Snow is done yet. He'll just wait for another perfect fit.