Whom Will Garth Snow Be Targeting? Isles Free Agent Talk

Today is Canada Day, which marks the opening day of free agency in the National Hockey League – a day that captures the attention of every hockey fan that hopes their team will improve their roster the easiest way possible.

However, this year comes with a twist for Islanders country. In previous years, fans were desperately hoping that Garth Snow would be signing a slew of top players. This year, the Islanders have a team comprised of both veterans and young players that is on the rise looking to fill a few holes. With that being said, they are some important holes that must be filled with the right players.

The top line will still continue to boast John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, the latter being the recent subject of trade rumors. Since Okposo was not moved at the draft, it looks as if he will be staying in an orange and blue sweater for at least one more season.

The two have performed excellently together, but a third player on that top line was missed all of last season. The coaching staff was constantly rotating players with that tandem, including Josh Bailey, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome.

There are a handful of wingers available today, including Matt Belesky, Michael Frolik and P.A. Parenteau.

The last name obviously rings a bell due to his prior track record with Tavares a few years back. But Snow rarely goes back on moves that he’s made in the past, and it seems unlike that the Isles GM would look to sign Parenteau after choosing to move his team in a different direction. Throw in that he is now 32-years old and coming off a very disappointing season with Montreal that resulted in a buyout, and it seems even more unlikely.

Frolik has put up some respectable numbers in his career, scoring 19 goals and 42 points last year with the Winnipeg Jets. But those numbers aren’t top line numbers. Playing with Tavares could potentially change that, but if not, Frolik would be an added depth forward to a team that has, well, a lot of depth on offense.

Belesky probably has the greatest potential to be a top line player with Tavares and Okposo. But he hasn’t proven much at the NHL level. Last year he scored 22 goals and 32 points in 65 games with the Ducks. But this is the first time that he has scored more than 20 goals.

If I were Snow, I would be looking for a top line player that has proven that he is exactly that. None of these candidates above fit the bill, meaning that Snow might have to look to the trade market if he is looking to bolster his top trio.

But with Lee locked up to a four-year deal as of yesterday, Strome putting up 50 points In his first full NHL season, and Nelson netting over 20 goals and more than doubling his point total from the year before, Snow may be looking to fill that spot from within.

The team’s greatest need is finding a new back-up goaltender. It’s possible that Michal Neuvirth may remain with the Islanders if he doesn’t find a number one gig elsewhere. But Neuvirth’s stats with the Isles in his short time here were subpar.

In five games played, Neuvirth went 1-3-1 with a 2.94 GAA and only a .881 save percentage. Perhaps a fresh start with the Islanders from the start of the year would yield better results.

Kari Ramo would have been a good fit with the Isles, but he has recently signed a one-year contract to remain with the Calgary Flames. Thomas Greiss and Jonas Gustavsson are two goalies that Snow might be considering. However, sticking with Neuvirth, perhaps for one more year, might be his best option.

It is also rumored that the Islanders might be looking to add depth on defense. With Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic locked up for the next six to seven years, Thomas Hickey close to signing a new contract and Calvin de Haan still in the mix, there is one spot remaining for a sixth defenseman.

Many predict that Ryan Pulock will be taking this spot after the year he had with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last year. He scored 17 goals and 12 assists from their blue line in only 54 games played. But he will also have competition with Scotty Mayfield looking to earn a spot after the impressive showing he had in last year’s playoff series against the Washington Capitals.

Yet Snow is not a GM that leaves spots open for grabs. Signing another defenseman would add competition in camp this year, which would require Pulock and Mayfield to really elevate their games to crack the lineup.

The Isles also still have Brian Strait, but with a healthy line-up, he looks to be the Islanders’ seventh defenseman.

Mike Green is the top defenseman on the market and would make the Isles blue line even more threatening when it comes to offense. His ice time has dropped while playing with the Capitals, which would make him a good fit on the bottom four of the Islanders defense. Despite the drop in ice time, Green has still racked up some strong numbers (10 goals, 35 assists and 45 points).

But he may be looking for a big pay day and a chance to get back to playing top pairing minutes. Therefore, other options include Paul Martin, who provides veteran experience, or Cody Franson, who is a young defender with a right shot that can score from the blue line as well.

Johnny Oduya and Andrej Sekera are two other defensemen that the Islanders might consider. Oduya is a strong defensive-minded d-man and has the Stanley Cup on his resume, much like Leddy and Boychuk. Sekera is another defense first kind of guy that could provide a stable presence on the back-end with a player like Hickey, Pulock or Mayfield.

With only minutes to go until the market opens up, Islanders fans will soon see if Garth Snow had any of these players on his radar.

-Rob McGowan

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