June 30, 2012

UFA: Potential Isles Targets?

Sunday the calendar changes to July 1st, a day which holds special meaning for NHL fans across North America. By the end of the day some fans will have shiny new toys they can talk about and analyze to their hearts content until training camps (hopefully) open up in September.

For Isles fans in particular, unfortunately the day never brings much excitement. Even Sean and myself have found ourselves getting our hopes up at times in past years only to be disappointed. Regardless of that, every team has holes and they try and fill them via free agency. The Islanders already filled one hole in their trade for Lubomir Visnovsky at the draft. But what about some of the other holes?

One of the more obvious ones is a top line right winger, a hole that is open due to the expected departure of P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau scored 67 points for an Isles team that wasn't as strong offesnively as many thought they would be. So naturally, replacing some of his offense is a big concern.

Parenteau has likely taken his last pre-game skate for Isles. (C.Hessel)
The Islanders plan to have Josh Bailey play wing next year, which means they have a couple of options. They can: a) sign a second line center, move Frans Nielsen down to the third line, Bailey to wing, and put one of Bailey/Kyle Okposo/Michael Grabner up on John Tavares's wing, b) sign a UFA winger to just take Parenteau's spot or c) not bring in anyone and have Ryan Strome take over the 2nd line pivot duties a year or two early.

Obviously plans a and b are the most ideal scenarios. So when it comes to forwards, who exactly could the Isles target for this hole and their bottom-6 grinder hole?

Olli Jokinen, C: Yes, you read that right. The inconsistent center should be an option for the Islanders come Sunday due to his ability to play center. Behind Tavares, he'd make a good stop-gap until Strome is truly ready. A lot has been said about Jokinen and his defensive ineptitude, but I don't see it as much of an issue if you put him with some defensively responsible forwards and limit his minutes. Coming off of a couple of seasons spent as the go to center for the Calgary Flames, putting Jokinen in a spot where he can thrive might be just what he needs. Jokinen stands a chance to get a multi-year deal for around $3-$3.5 million. The Isles may only want him on the lower end of that, for a one or two year deal.

Alexander Semin, RW: This is a long shot, but is there any player better for the Islanders to replace Parenteau with? Semin's history is well documented. He can be a headcase at times, has questionable commitment, but has to be one of the more naturally skilled players in the game. He is getting calls daily from the KHL, but prefers to stay in the NHL. It remains to be seen how much interest, if any, there is in a player as maddening as him. In other words, it could be a match made in heaven between a player who's unwanted and a team no one typically wants to sign with. Still, this is likely to be a stretch. He won't make $6.7 million like he did last season but could easily get around $4.5 million per. Contract length will be a wild card here.

Kristian Huselius, LW/RW: If you're saying to yourself "Oh, I had no idea he was a free agent," that's because you haven't heard anyone say anything about him since December. After getting pectoral surgery during training camp, Huselius returned for a grand total of two games before suffering a season-ending groin injury. Garth Snow has longed liked the player, dating back to the failed Huselius-Ruslan Fedotenko swap back at the trade deadline in 2008. That offseason Huselius took a huge offer from the Blue Jackets where he had success until the injury bug hit. He'll get a one year deal from someone, and it could be the Islanders. I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

Colby Armstrong, LW/RW: Since signing his big UFA deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, things went South in a hurry for Armstrong. He only scored nine goals in his two years there over 79 games and was bought out on Saturday afternoon. Throughout his career, he's been a good 3rd line option with a scoring touch to fill in on the second line. He'll likely get a short term deal, likely from a contender, but the Islanders could use a guy like him rather than the Brian Rolston's of the world.

Peter Mueller, LW/RW: Mueller's injury history has cost him his job in Colorado after they failed to offer him a qualifying offer. The concussion is a very scary injury, and he's in unknown territory as of now. He's a guy you take a flyer on, do some other shopping and as the dust settles perhaps go back to and give him a shot. The Islanders like the player no doubt, but do they trust he's past his injury problems? Does anyone, for that matter?

Joey Crabb, RW/LW: An odd name to throw in here, but he couldn't come to terms with the Leafs on a new contract after being bounced around between the NHL and AHL last season. He scored 11 goals and 15 assists last year at the NHL level, and brings an intensity the Isles may like on their 3rd or 4th line.

Despite the Isles acquisition of Visnovsky, they would ideally like to add another defenseman with size. With only four veterans signed for next season, and Calvin de Haan or Matt Donovan expected to slot in on the bottom pairing, the Islanders are looking for a banger to put with them. The candidates (but be prepared to pay a little more, given the market for defensemen):

Michal Rozsival: The 212 pound blueliner is getting up there in age but can still play a steady defensive game. He was very strong in the playoffs until getting hurt. His better offesnive days are behind him but as a 3rd pairing guy you couldn't ask for anything more. He'd provide a good calming influence for some of the younger members and really help round out the pairings nicely. He won't make anything close to what he did last season ($5 million cap hit) but the $3 million of actual salary will be more like it. The knee injury is a potential concern here.

Greg Zanon: Zanon is 32 and his body has been beat up enough as it is, but he still loves to block shots. A deadline acquisition by the Boston Bruins, Zanon doesn't play much offense. But his game is all in front of his goaltender, clearing the crease. A lot of debate has gone on as to how much he can still play, but in a 3rd pair role I think he'd be fine. He's the kind of guy the Islanders would be likely to covet, but he may be no better than Mark Eaton, although healthier.

Scott Hannan: Similar to Zanon, his body has taken a beating and the 33 year old appears to be quickly breaking down. It seems eerily similar to when the Islanders signed Brendan Witt, who many thought was on the downside of his career. The Islanders were able to get a couple of solid years out of Witt, and in a 3rd pairing role Hannan can still be effective. He spent last season with Calgary, and although he doesn't have injury problems, his speed is a concern. Teams have been afraid of Hannan for the last two seasons, but its highly probable that a cup contender will end up scooping him up on the cheap.

Adrian Aucoin: Yes, he's still around. And believe it or not, he's still effective. He really helped round out a Coyotes defense that had a young nucleus and was a steady guy on their bottom pairing and powerplay unit. He still has that shot that we fell in love with from 2001-2004, but doesn't use it as much. He's more embraced his role in throwing hits when needed and bringing along younger defensemen, which is someone the Islanders could really use on the 3rd pairing.

Bryce Salvador: Perhaps the best fit for what the Islanders want, Salvador has a good shot at staying in New Jersey. Salvador will have many calls due to his strong playoff performance. It's already impressive that he was able to come back after an entire year off and pick up where he left off as far as being a very smart stay at home guy, and the playoff run only helped out his free agent status. A longshot for the Isles, but they really like him.

Francis Bouillon: He's a bit on the small side, but if you never seen him play and heard about his style, you'd be surrpised. He's one of the most intense defensemen in the league, and doesn't back down from challenges. He doesn't do it as much these days, but in a past life he used to fight a lot. He'll still drop the gloves if need be but usually sticks to laying out some nice hits and blocking shots. Think of him as an older and slightly better version of old friend Freddy Meyer. He and Nashville have been a perfect match, and I'm expecting him to go back to them where he can get the best of all worlds.

Naturally, some of you are probably reading these names and going "I hope not," but it wasn't meant to be a wish list of mine. It is supposed to be a realistic look at where the Islanders are when it comes to free agency. It's no secret that they will pay players only what the team thinks they are worth rather than what the market dictates, so the fact that overpayments have been made to some key UFA candidates already hurts the Isles. These are all guys who could probably be had at reasonable numbers if the Isles want them, and also fill the holes they are trying to fill.

Naturally, I'd love to see them sign the Zach Parise's and Ryan Suter's of the world but it's just not in the cards. So keep these names in your back pocket, and hope for the best.

More to come tomorrow morning when the frenzy starts at 12 PM. Tune here for any potential Isles news, and perhaps a live blog of the day's events. Afterall, as hockey fans we have to embrace the first day of the 2012-2013 season.



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