Isles Files: A Look Ahead To Free Agency

At most, the 2013 NHL season has two games remaining. The Chicago Blackhawks have the opportunity to send the Boston Bruins home without any new hardware, as a win tonight would make them this year's Stanley Cup Champions.

With that being said, the New York Islanders organization has been preparing for the NHL Entry draft, as well as free agency.

As we jump ahead to July 5th, there are a handful of players that the Islanders might consider for the 2013-2014 roster that may make them a better contending team for next season's playoff run.

With former captain Mark Streit signing a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, there will be at least one hole to fill on defense. There is talk that the organization is high on prospect Matt Donovan, who has just finished an exceptional season on the blue line for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, scoring 14 goals, 34 assists and 48 points in 75 games played. This comes after a 45 point season the previous year as well. With not much left to prove at the AHL level, Donovan will likely be given a prime opportunity to crack the Islanders roster and fill the void left by Streit's vacancy (Photo Credit: spotboslow/Flickr).

But the defense is already heavily crowded with Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, Brian Strait and Matt Carkner. The team will also likely extend a qualifying offer to Thomas Hickey as well.

They also have top defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart that may also get a chance to join the big club. But management has the option of providing Reinhart with another year of Junior to boost his development. This might be an easy decision with the already crowded blue line.

Carkner is also a defenseman that can easily sit a few games here and there, allowing Donovan the opportunity to play even if GM Garth Snow brings in another veteran.

One of the first options that comes to mind is Long Island's own Rob Scuderi. A native of Syosset, Scuderi knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup having just done so last year with the Los Angeles Kings. At 34 years old, Scuderi would provide a stable veteran presence with size and experience.

If they wish to find someone to help replace Streit's offense, they make look at someone like Ryan Whitney. In the past, Whitney has been more than capable of providing explosive offensive numbers from the blue line. However, his point production has declined during his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers. But that may be contributed mostly to his inability to stay healthy, which would also be a major concern for the Islanders.

Other free agent options include Toni Lydman, Ian White, Jordan Leopold and Tomas Kaberle.

With Brad Boyes set to hit the market, the Isles will likely look to see who they can find to replace him on the top line. Forwards Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome will certainly have their chances to earn a roster spot on this team, but giving them first line responsibilities right out of the gate might be too much for them to handle in the immediate future.

Jarome Iginla still has some gas left in the tank despite being 35 years old. He scored 33 points in 44 games last year between the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring 67 points in 82 games the previous year. The ironman also played in five consecutive full seasons before this past year, racking up between 67 and 98 points over that span. Adding his grit, veteran experience and offensive abilities to the Moulson/Tavares combination could be a perfect fit (Beauty Playin 'Eh/Flickr).

If the team wished to find a younger and more long term solution, they could look at someone like Michael Ryder. He scored 35 points in 46 games this season between the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens. He is only 33 years old and is someone who can add at least 60 points to the Islanders offense.

The best option might be Mike Ribeiro. He is also 33 years old and would add speed and great hands to a tandem that already puts up excellent offensive numbers. He averaged better than a point-per-game this past season, scoring 49 in 48 games played and had 63 and 71 points in the past two seasons, respectively.

Other options include Danny Briere, Patrik Elias and Nathan Horton.

One of the largest areas of concern for the New York Islanders is their goaltending situation. Evgeni Nabokov will more than likely be back with the Islanders next season and youngster Kevin Poulin is ready to play as well. But Nabokov played in 41 out of 48 games this year at the ripe age of 37 (and he turns 38 in July). Despite carrying this team on his shoulder throughout the regular season, he struggled in the playoffs and displayed that the team could benefit from having a 1A goaltender behind him.

Adding another veteran net-minder to this team would allow Kevin Poulin another year in the minors with Anders Nilsson, who may in fact have better potential to one day be the Islanders number one goaltender. Although Poulin has been in the system now for quite some time, he is still only 22 years old and could benefit from another year with the Sound Tigers.

But then of course, there is Rick DiPietro. We already are aware of the major rumors, implying he might be dealt to the Vancouver Canucks for Roberto Luongo. As previously stated, I find it hard to believe that the Islanders would actually trade one bad contract for another, risking the possibility of another life-time deal blowing up in their face - and Luongo's is longer and more expensive. Unless the Isles can part ways with DP and persuade the Canucks to eat some of Luongo's salary away before he comes to the team, I do not expect to see this deal to go down.

The Isles were apparently interested in acquiring Jonathan Bernier from the L.A. Kings, but that ship has sailed as he was recently traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If the Isles were still looking at the trade market, Ryan Miller would likely be available. It is rumored that the Buffalo Sabres are preparing for a youth movement and are looking to part ways with Miller to shed some salary and start fresh. Miller is 32 years old and more than capable of carrying a team during the regular season. He had a 17-17-5 record  this year in 40 games played with a 2.81 GAA and .915 save percentage on a poorly performed Sabres team. A Nabokov/Miller goaltender pairing is an exciting one to think about (Beauty Playin 'Eh/Flickr).

If the Isles cannot strike a deal with the Sabres, the market has some other goaltenders available as well.

Mike Smith might be the most coveted by many teams. At 31 years old, Smith comes as a goaltender still in his prime with many years left in his career. In 2011-2012 with the Phoenix Coyotes, Smith had a 38-18-10 record to go along with a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage. This year, Smith had a 15-12-5 record over 34 games played with a 2.58 GAA and .910 save percentage.

Ray Emery may also be available if the Chicago Blackhawks look to make some cap room by allowing their valuable back-up goaltender to hit the open market. In 21 games played, Emery was 17-1-0 with a 1.94 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Other options include Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore and Chris Mason.

In previous years, the Islanders have been overwhelmingly quiet during the free agency period, typically signing veteran players who were beyond their prime years or other players in search of a fresh start after previously underperforming.

This year could be, and should be different. The Islanders made the playoffs for the first time in six years and gave the Penguins a real fight to win that series in six games. They earned respect from their opponents as well as from around the rest of the league and proved that this is a team that can now be taken seriously as they prepare for their move to a brand new facility in Brooklyn.

If they wish to maintain that identity, they need to take two steps forward heading into next season. There are holes on this team, and filling them with prospects and cheap gamble contracts is no longer the way to go. Accountability needs to be found, playoff experience needs to be added and leadership needs to be provided.

Garth Snow and his management team have a lot of options to choose from this summer and must be aggressive in pursuing the right ones if they wish to keep this team heading in the right direction.

-Rob McGowan
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