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Isles Free Agency Preview

  1. As we wait for word of where John Tavares will be playing in the future, the free agency frenzy is set to begin this Sunday at noon.

For the New York Islanders, every aspect of their offseason gameplan hinges on whether Tavares decides to stay with the franchise or leave for another franchise after nine years with the organization. But depending on that outcome, general manager Lou Lamoriello will have his hands full in filling the holes that are plaguing the Isles. Lamoriello will have a bundle of cap space to execute his plan — $32.7 million dollars to be exact.

But it’s not just money that Lamoriello and Co. will be able to pitch to free agents this time around. Instead, the new boss will be able to deliver an experienced and respected coach in Barry Trotz who just won his first Stanley Cup less than three weeks ago, an organization rich of prospects and future studs on offense and defense, a winning attitude, and last but not least, a new beautiful building on Long Island in the not so distant future.

Lamoriello is well aware that from how this team performed last year, that defense and goaltending are the biggest keys to making the Islanders are feared team again. With G Jaro Halak becoming a UFA — plus Thomas Greiss being the only goalie signed on the roster,  and Linus Soderstrom just coming over to start his career in North America — Lamoriello will have to use some of that magic to find that elusive number one. The goalie market will be slim pickings on July 1, but knowing Lou, he will be able to find that diamond in the rough whether it’s via a trade or signing.

Here are a few of the possible goalies that might be worth taking the risk:

-JONATHAN BERNIER, 28: Bernier is coming a solid season in Colorado going 19-13-3 in 34 starts. He’s bounced around a bit playing for four teams (Los Angeles, Toronto, Anaheim, Colorado), but has been a steady presence sporting a career 2.67 GAA. Bernier is one of the youngest goaltenders in this free agent class, the second being Michael Hutchinson. With the Isles trying to get younger in net and find someone as a possible bridge for another year or two, Bernier would be a good option as a possible 1A-1B scenario with Thomas Greiss or Christopher Gibson for that matter.

-CARTER HUTTON, 32: Hutton will definitely be getting attention on July 1, and the Isles should be one of them. Head coach Barry Trotz is familiar with Hutton from their short time in Nashville. Despite not playing more than 35 games in a season in his career, Hutton has impressed in each spot he’s landed in. He played extremely well replacing Jake Allen this past season when Allen was struggling in net. The Thunder Bay, ON native would be a project in net for the Islanders in both the short-term and long-term if they see him as a number one, but he could definitely be a serviceable backup if a starting gig is not in the cards.

-ANTON KHUDOBIN, 32: Khudobin is in the same boat as Hutton when it should come to the interest from the Islanders. He has got some miles on him having made stops with the Bruins twice, Wild, Hurricanes, and Ducks. The most games Khudobin has played in one season was 36, something to keep in mind. His work the past few seasons backing up Tuukka Rask was a breath of fresh air for the Bruins. Going 16-6 in 29 appearances this season, Khudobin could be another 1A-1B if the Islanders did decide to take a flyer on him.

-MICHAEL HUTCHINSON, 28: Hutchinson is a bit of a wild card for a team like New York. He is the youngest goalie on the market, but how he fell out of flavor in Winnipeg after Connor Hellebuyck’s emergence does pose some concerns. Hutchinson in the past has shown he can be depended on as a number one — playing 40-plus games in two of his first five seasons. What makes Hutchinson a risk the Isles should take, 1) Here’s a guy looking to re-energize his career, 2) Here’s a young kid still in his prime looking to prove the critics wrong.

Transitioning to defense, the Islanders were the worst in the National Hockey League this year. There several factors for why this free agency is so crucial for that trend to reverse itself for next season.

Johnny Boychuk is not getting any younger, Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield are still developing, and there are still question marks to whether either Calvin de Haan or Thomas Hickey or even both will be returning. So the Isles are at a bit of a crossroads. Lou does have Nick Leddy who will be looking to bounce back from a tumultuous campaign and Ryan Pulock who looks ready to become a monster at both ends of the ice. Still, if a trade can’t come to fruition, Lamoriello could have his pick at some good defenders.

Here are some names on a defense worth looking at:

-MIKE GREEN, 32Green’s price will probably not be in the Islanders range, yet it would be foolish for the brass not to throw an offer his way. Even on a bad Red Wings team the past three seasons, Green has proved he can still play top-four minutes and can contribute offensively. Green’s veteran leadership would be a nice attribute to an Isles blueline that’s filled with promising youth — Pulock, Toews, Pelech, Mayfield. Add that Green is a right-handed shot — something the Isles have been missing to balance out on the blueline — and can still be an effective power play man, he’s more than qualified for the team to take a run at him.

-JACOB TROUBA, 24: Lamoriello would have to swing a deal to get Trouba from Winnipeg. It’s definitely not impossible but certainly seems harder than it sounds. Trouba would check off all the boxes the Islanders are looking for in stud d-man — the ability to play top-four minutes, responsible at both ends of the ice, size and skill. Even as an RFA, if Lamoriello did acquire Trouba, he would have no problem paying him with the abundance of cap room the team has to play with.

-MATT DUMBA, 23: Dumba is another young, talented defender that Lou should try to squeeze out new Wild GM Paul Fenton. Dumba played in all 82 games this season, and since being drafted has continued to get better and better with each season. It would take a sweet deal for Lamoriello to take Dumba away, but it would be beneficial for the Isles, as he immediately bolsters the d-corps and adds to the youth movement taking place.

The one thing nobody thought the Islanders would have a problem with this past year was offense. In some ways they didn’t, in a lot of ways they did.

Beyond the top-six — Tavares, Lee, Bailey, Barzal, Beauvillier, Eberle — the club got very minimal production from those forwards that made up the bottom part of the lineup. The interesting thing is now, there are spots to be had on the bottom-six. With Nikolay Kulemin off to the KHL, Shane Prince and Alan Quine gone, Brock Nelson expendable, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas trying to re-discover their game, and Andrew Ladd coming off his worst offensive season, the Islanders are in desperate need of some new blood to roll four lines again.

Some forwards that can help the Isles offense flourish again:

-RYAN O’ REILLY, 27This one would be a trade, but Ryan O’ Reilly coming in only if Tavares departs would be a welcomed addition. O’ Reilly had success in Colorado before being dealt to Buffalo, where he’s played the last three seasons. He never really found his footing in Buffalo, but a change of scenery could be what really pushes O’ Reilly to play up to his full potential. O’ Reilly is still in the prime of his career, and he has totaled more than 60 points three times. He would be a major player in the Isles high-octane attack.
PAUL STASTNY, 32: Stasny is another target for Lamoriello that would help ease the burn if Tavares left. Despite being five years older than Tavares, Stasny has a lot left in the tank and a boatload of experience to boot. Everywhere Stastny has gone he’s had success — even recently his short stint with the Winnipeg Jets. Statsny wouldn’t put up the same numbers as Tavares, but adding another 40-60 points to the lineup and more veteran leadership, wouldn’t hurt the Isles in the least.
TYLER BOZAK32: There wouldn’t be much of an argument if Lamoriello brought Bozak to Long Island after getting to observe him up close and personal from his last three seasons in Toronto. Bozak has been on the Islanders radar even before the new regime commenced, so he would definitely have value as one of the teams’ top centermen. The Maple Leafs have all Bozak has ever known, so the Isles signing him could be a breath of fresh air and allow for a more balanced attack.
MATT CALVERT, 28: While he wouldn’t be the most necessary acquisition if number 91 is out, Calvert would be an excellent addition to an Isles team that wants to be able to depend on their bottom-six again plus be able to roll four lines like they did in years prior. Calvert, never really seem to get a fair shake in Columbus. With the Isles, he would get that and more. The Islanders would benefit from his ability to kill penalties, sneaky skill set, and the fact that Barry Trotz knows him well from him being in the Metro since he came into the league.
MICHAEL GRABNER, 30: This one is interesting because Grabner is now 30 but can still produce at a high rate. Grabner would be an upgrade to the bottom-six from what the Isles have fielded in recent years. The Austrian’s speed could also be exactly what Barry Trotz is looking for in his the new style of play he’s going implement. Grabner can also still score (27 in 2016-17, 25 in 2017-18), and you can never have enough offense. Especially if you’re a team looking to improve at the forward position, like the Islanders.
TOBIAS REIDER, 25: Reider is another intriguing name come July 1. Still very young, he never seemed to fit in either of Arizona or Los Angeles’ plans, leaving some question marks about his ability. But for a player of Reider’s age, the Isles would be wrong not to at least take a look at him after the small numbers the bottom part of their forward group contributed last season. Reider would also help the much-needed depth the Islanders have been lacking at wing the past few years.
We won’t know until Friday or Saturday if John Tavares will remain with the Islanders, but until then it’s always fun to start looking ahead at how the team can get better.
With this new regime, who knows what to expect. But one thing is for sure, this free agency should be exactly what it is for the Isles: A Frenzy.
Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_


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