Right Now Commitment Is Key For The New York Islanders
The Islanders have recently signed rookie Michael Grabner to a five-year contract extension, a deal that is worth 15 million dollars with an annual cap hit of $3 million per season. As most know by now, the deal will pay him $1 million the first season, $2 million the second season, $3 million the third season and so on.
At first I was a tad skeptical of such a long commitment to a player that has only one solid season under his belt after being passed on by two teams in the past. The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers felt that his slow starts were enough reason to feel the need to let him go. However, fans from both teams have expressed remorse in their organization's decision to let the fastest skater in the NHL go for nothing. Even if Grabner doesn't score 30+ goals again (although the expectations should be at the same amount if not higher), his speed will be a key asset every game since there aren't many defenders who can keep up with him once he gets home free at the blue line or skates wide and cuts to the net.
All in all, the deal is affordable and one that keeps a key member of the core part of the franchise. And as other bloggers have already pointed out, it couldn't have come at a better time. With team owner Charles Wang looking for commitment from the fans to help keep them on the Island with a vote that will be held on August 1st to determine whether or not his new arena is built, gaining commitment from one of the team's best players was crucial.
So who will be next?
Gervais, Hillen and Wishart are key defenseman that are RFA's...but the forwards will likely gain the bigger headlines, and right now the Islanders definitely want to keep themselves in the spotlight.
That leaves Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo as the other main RFA's to sign on offense. Bailey had a disappointing year and saw time with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but he will probably be given another look for at least one more year. Blake Comeau had a much improved season, joining the 20-goal club and setting personal records in all offensive categories. But Kyle Okposo, someone who many had pinned as possibly the next captain of the New York Islanders, will definitely be the next best news after the Grabner signing.
Okposo missed more than half of the season with a shoulder injury that he suffered during the pre-season, but he managed to score 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) in 38 games played. He put up 52 points last year and was expected to build on that before the set back. Towards the end of the season, after he probably felt more comfortable on the ice after spending so much time rehabbing his shoulder, KO began to look like his old self and will look to continue that style of play next year. Signing the young power forward to a long-term deal would be great news for the team, the organization, the arena movement and it's fans.
Commitment is key right now, and GM Garth Snow needs to continue committing to the players that he has built this team around.
On a side note, I recently ran into former Islander and New York Ranger defenseman Bryan McCabe at a bar that I occasionally go to in Wantagh. He was spotted sitting at the end of the bar watching some playoff hockey that was on TV. He also probably saw the headlines that were broadcasted on every set about the unfortunate death of New York Ranger enforcer, Derek Boogaard. (My deepest sympathies go out to his friends and his family, as it is truly one of the most upsetting stories in the hockey world, and in general over the past recent years). But I can't say I spoke to him about such a touchy subject.
I did, however, talk with him about what it was like to play for the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers. We talked about his wife's ties to Long Island, where he was staying and his potential plans for next season. Some might be a little surprised. But I will respectfully keep that to myself. Our conversation was off the record and the last thing I want to do is spread rumors about a person who was kind enough to talk hockey with a complete stranger.
I will say that it goes to show that hockey players are some of the most humble athletes. He could have easily told me he was busy seeing some friends but was very quick to start talking to me, even after I told him I was a member of the NYI Blog Box. Although I am not a big fan of the other major sports, I feel that it is safe to say you won't find that type of respect from many other athletes. Hockey players are definitely one of a kind.
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