There was little question that the Islanders were going to have a different look. Once July 1 rolled around, Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo became former players moving on to different teams. Martin landing in Toronto for four years, $10 million to protect Auston Matthews. Nielsen opting for Detroit’s $31.5 million over six years, and Okposo headed upstate to Buffalo for seven years, $42 million.
Islanders Team President and GM Garth Snow went for more experience and leadership bringing in Andrew Ladd on a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. While the long-term risk could come back to haunt them, Ladd is the kind of character player who should help captain John Tavares lead both on and off the ice. A veteran who’s won two Stanley Cups, Ladd knows what it takes to win.
Aside from going at least two years too long on Ladd, Snow was able to find a couple of dependable players in the bargain basement. First, he added former Cap Jason Chimera for only two years, $4.5 million. While it’s true he’s 37, Chimera has continued to perform well. A solid two-way player who can be used on the third or fourth line while being an effective penalty killer, the speedy forward never takes a shift off. His work ethic and hustle should impress Islander fans.
Still needing another scorer, Snow dug into the past and brought back the proven P.A. Parenteau on a low risk one year, $1.25 million deal. The 33-year old scored 20 goals and added 21 assists for 41 points in 77 games for the Maple Leafs a year after a disappointing injury riddled campaign in Montreal.
Before leaving for Colorado, Parenteau was part of a couple of Islander teams where he played some of his best hockey in ’10-11 and ’11-12. He totaled 38 goals and 82 helpers for 130 points over 161 games while playing mostly with Tavares. He’s always been a solid power play option. Of his 268 total points, 107 have come on the man-advantage including 33 power play goals and 74 power play assists. The Islanders ranked 17th on the power play going 18.3 percent this past season.
The big question with these additions is how much can they offset the losses of Martin, Nielsen and Okposo? Let’s face it. All three were key parts of the Islanders who helped them finally reach the second round. Of course, it doesn’t happen without a heroic effort from Tavares, whose tying and winning goals in Game 6 against the Panthers had the Barclays Center celebrating in downtown Brooklyn.
Okposo had superb chemistry with Tavares taking his game to a different level. Now, he’ll look to do the same thing in Buffalo with either Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly. Nielsen was always that perfect second-line pivot who could be trusted in any situation including power play and penalty kill. With the Isles’ offense struggling, coach Jack Capuano didn’t hesitate to move him up to Tavares’ line with Okposo.
Martin was the meat and potatoes for the club. Along with Cal Clutterbuck, he played a physical style that made him a fan favorite. Delivering crunching hits and becoming an effective forechecker on the Isles’ grind line centered by Casey Cizikas, the popular Martin was always willing to do the dirty work for the good of the team. That’ll be left to Clutterbuck, who has been a great fit since coming over from the Wild for former first round pick Nino Niederreiter. He has one year left before hitting the market next summer.
What the Isles are doing is trying to transform a team that played physical to more of a skating club. By adding the more skilled Chimera, they’re going away from what Martin brought. They also bumped up Cizikas’ salary to $3.35 million. That probably means they want him to take on a different role.
While it’s true they did lose more scoring, maybe it’s time for some of their young core to step to the forefront. We’re speaking of Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, who is still recovering from a broken left fibula that kept him out of the playoffs. Nelson was a disappointment with just a goal and four assists in the two rounds. They need more consistency from him. He put up 26 markers in ’15-16. Nelson is fully capable of supplanting Nielsen as the team’s second line center. Lee came on down the stretch before a costly injury. Both will be keys to their success.
One thing about the Isles’ roster is they have plenty of versatility. Both Nelson and Lee can play the pivot as can Josh Bailey, who is one of the club’s top penalty killers along with Clutterbuck. Ryan Strome is another young player they’re counting on to be better than last season. He took a giant step back finishing with eight goals and 20 assists. His skill level certainly should produce much better. Strome still needs work defensively.
If there are two players the club haven’t gotten enough from, that would be oft-injured center Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. For the money they make (combined $9.18 million AAV) neither has been consistent. Unfortunately, Grabovski has dealt with concussions which have really limited him. He’s played 109 games the first two years with the Isles totaling 18 goals and 26 assists. He missed the postseason. In fact, he’s only gotten into three playoff games the past two years. Kulemin is more complementary and can be used in a secondary role. Certainly, either could be a buyout candidate or left unprotected for next year’s expansion. Not that I could realistically see Las Vegas actually picking either up.
With Snow re-signing Shane Prince for two years at an average of $850,000, he has just over six million left on the cap. Only restricted free agents Strome and Jean-Francois Berube are left to re-sign. Neither of who should cost too much.
The Islanders will be taking long looks at recent top picks Michael Dal Colle, Matthew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang, who turns pro this year. Dal Colle has the highest upside. If he impresses enough, he could get into some games before being sent back to junior. Ho-Sang has the most to prove following last year’s awful camp which prompted Snow to send him home.
Even with the roster changing, the Isles should still be heard from in the future.