Playing Armchair GM: The Blueprints for a Successful New York Islanders Roster

On behalf of the writers of Drive 4 Five, allow me to welcome you to our brand new Islanders fanpage. Thank you to those who have followed us here from the old site, as well as those who are finding us out for the first time. 

For our first Islanders-related article on our new blog, I’d like to create a blueprint for the New York Islanders that I believe will win us a Stanley Cup in the next few years, and complete our Drive 4 Five. Let’s start by looking at what we have.

Should the season begin today, the Islanders’ lines would most likely look something like this:

Lee – Tavares – Eberle

Ladd – Nelson/Barzal – Ho Sang

Chimera – Beauvillier – Bailey

Kulemin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Leddy – Boychuk

De Haan? – Seidenberg

Hickey – Pulock

Greiss

Halak

The team has $9.1M of cap space available, has no major UFAs, and the only major RFA is Calvin de Haan.

The team also has selections in every round of the next three drafts except for:

  • 2018 6th round
  • 2019 4th round

Most of us will see that there are some holes that need to be addressed.  While Garth Snow has made some moves already, most have been subtracting player assets for draft picks.  The only main addition to the lineup was Jordan Eberle.  Looking at this roster, a few questions come to mind that have to be answered before the regular season begins.

Who will play second line center?  Every Stanley Cup winning team needs center depth.  The Blackhawks had Toews and Anisimov, the Kings had Kopitar and Carter, the Bruins had Bergeron and Krejci, and the Penguins had Crosby and Malkin.  The Islanders have a top line center in John Tavares, but lost their number two center, Frans Nielsen, to free agency last offseason.  There have been many rumors circulating about acquiring Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche.  The third overall selection in 2009 has 418 points in 572 regular season games and is known for his blistering speed.  The Avalanche have reportedly been trying to trade him since before the Trade Deadline back in March, but have not found a deal that is “to their liking”.  There were reports that they sought Travis Hamonic, but he was traded to the Flames for draft picks.  The only defenseman the Isles may be able to offer now is Ryan Pulock. Pulock is exactly what the Avs are looking for; a young and NHL-ready defenseman. However, Pulock alone would not be enough, as the Islanders would have to add some picks and prospects to sweeten the deal. With this steep asking price on Matt Duchene, the trade is looking unlikely to develop.  This is leaves the Islanders with two options to fill their second line center role.  They can build from within and give Mathew Barzal a full time role.  The 16th overall selection in the 2015 draft helped the Seattle Thunderbirds capture the WHL title and was named Playoff MVP after scoring 25 points in 16 games played.  The other option is to go into free agency.  A possible target, should he not stay put, is Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks.  The towering, yet soft-handed playmaker, registered 50 points last season, 43 of which were assists.  The problem with this option is he might ask for money that the Islanders don’t have.  The current option, Brock Nelson, is serviceable, but has shown that he is better used on the wing as opposed to at center.  Should that be the case, he can slot down to the third line and a player like Beauvillier or Chimera will be scratched.  

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Every winning team has a dynamic duo at center. Who will play #2 center for the Isles?

What to do with Andrew Ladd?  The former Jets’ captain was a disappointment this past season as he only registered 31 points.  However, 23 of those were goals, so he showed that he can certainly put the puck in the net.  The winger also revealed that he was playing injured during the first half of the season, which could have contributed to his poor on-ice performance.  However, should he not bounce back next season, the Islanders can trade him to one of the 16 teams not included on his no-trade list.  Should Garth Snow need to trade Ladd, look for a return to include draft picks or a proven defenseman.  The Islanders have prospects in the system such as Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows waiting to take Ladd’s position. The free agency option is least attractive, as the best players available include an aging Patrick Marleau, a likely to be overpaid Thomas Vanek, and an underachieving Jiri Hudler.  

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Is Andrew Ladd doing enough to make the Islanders a winning team?

How do we close the huge hole on defense?  With Garth Snow trading Travis Hamonic this past week, the team lost its third best defenseman.  Although he struggled this year, he is only a -7 for his career, with a majority of those years spent on bad, non-playoff Islanders teams.  He had his best season in 2014-2015, when he scored 33 points and was a +15.  If the Isles decide to build from within, their top prospects include Devon Toews, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock.  It remains to be seen if Pulock is ready for a full time role as a top-4 defenseman, and the other prospects likely need some time as well.  If he is not ready, Dennis Seidenberg can play the right side alongside Calvin de Haan.  However, the German native is already 36 and is not getting any younger.  Free agency may be a suitable route to take as the Islanders can pursue players such as Dmitry Kulikov, Karl Alzner, Mark Stone, or Trevor Daley.  As long as the Islanders don’t overpay them, they have proven that they are capable of playing in a top-4 role.  The Islanders may even be able to land the big fish of free agency, Kevin Shattenkirk.  The former St. Louis Blue has stated his desire to return to the New York area, and may be attracted to play for an up-and-coming Islanders team, as opposed to the declining New York Rangers (who already signed Brendan Smith), and the still rebuilding New Jersey Devils.

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Travis Hamonic was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for multiple draft picks

Is the goalie situation OK?  I can say with confidence that our goaltending situation is at ease, for now.  The Islanders signed Linus Soderstrom to an entry-level contract earlier this summer and is projected to be a very solid goaltender within the next few years.  The 20-year old was able to lead HV71 to the SHL championship this past season.  He also had the best GAA (1.34) in the league.  Jaroslav Halak will be a free agent next summer, and unless he has a bounce-back season this year, will not likely be offered a lengthy extension.  The only way he might be is if it is deemed that Soderstrom needs more time to develop.  In that case, Halak and Greiss will be free agents around the same time and the door will be open to Linus to become an NHL starter.  The Islanders also have Russian netminder Ilya Sorokin in the pipeline and he may be ready around the same time as Soderstrom.  Head coach Doug Weight might have a timeshare in net this year, but things should clear up in the coming years.  

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Linus Soderstrom celebrates his SHL championship. Is he New York’s future starter?

So what will the Islanders Opening Night Lineup be come October?  Being a GM is hard.  The decisions they make determine the outcome of a franchise.  Garth Snow has some major ones to make in the next few days.  I tried to do the work for him and here’s what happened:

The New York Islanders trade Michael Dal Colle, Ryan Pulock, and a 1st round selection in 2018 to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Matt Duchene.  The New York Islanders have what the Avalanche are desperate for: left wingers and defensemen.  The Avalanche current top two left wingers are Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Nieto.  If it means getting a left winger in return, the Avalanche can afford to lose a center, even one as good as Duchene.  The Avalanche already have centers in Tyson Jost, Mikhail Grigorenko, Carl Soderberg, and Nathan MacKinnon (should they not want him at right wing).  They can afford to give one up.  Michael Dal Colle would slot nicely behind Gabriel Landeskog and the Avalanche would have $6M more to find someone to play with him.  Ryan Pulock can play either the right or left side (especially on the powerplay), and that helps when their fourth-best defenseman is Patrick Wiercioch. The 2018 draft class is also very talented, making the draft pick more valuable.  Duchene will play on the second line for New York.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 6.19.25 PM
Matt Duchene would be an excellent #2 center for New York

The New York Islanders trade Jaroslav Halak to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a conditional 2018 pick.  If the Sharks make the playoffs, the pick is a second.  If the Sharks miss the playoffs, the pick is a third.  The Maple Leafs do not have a backup goaltender for next season.  Sure, they could find someone in free agency, but the price would be too high and they would have to sign someone long term.  Jaro has one year left on his contract and the Leafs have the cap room to afford it.  He will play when Leafs’ starter Fredrik Anderson needs a rest or is struggling (which he did multiple times this past year).

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Halak was signed a few years ago in hopes that he would be a starting goalie for years to come

The New York Islanders trade Nikolai Kulemin to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 3rd round selection in 2020.  The Golden Knights need some depth forwards for at least this year, and they have the cap space to afford Kulemin.  If the experiment doesn’t work out in Vegas, they can flip him at the Trade Deadline, or choose not to resign him come next summer.  

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Kulemin celebrates a goal against the Avalanche

The New York Islanders sign defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a 7 year, $56M contract.  With de Haan likely to make around $3M next season and taking Duchene’s $6M cap hit, the Isles run out of cap space.  That’s where the Halak and Kulemin trades come in.  The trades will free up a total of $8.5M of cap room that will be used to sign Shattenkirk.  He will play on the second defensive pairing alongside Calvin de Haan. 

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Shattenkirk was born and raised in New Rochelle, NY

The New York Islanders sign forward John Tavares to an 8 year, $72M contract extension.  Although it will likely involve losing a player like Josh Bailey next offseason, the Islanders will be able to extend John Tavares with Bailey’s freed up cap.  The star forward will be impressed at the team’s moves this offseason and will hurry to sign a contract extension before next season begins.  

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Tavares ends Game 6 of last year’s first round matchup against the Panthers

So here it is, the Opening Night Lineup for the 2017-2018 New York Islanders:

Lee – Tavares – Eberle

Ladd – Duchene – Ho Sang

Bailey – Beauvillier – Nelson

Chimera – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

Leddy – Boychuk

De Haan – Shattenkirk

Pelech – Seidenberg

Greiss

Williams/McAdam/Gibson

“You may say I’m a dreamer.  But I’m not the only one…” John Lennon probably wasn’t thinking about hockey when he sang these famous lyrics, but Islanders fans are all dreaming of one day watching the team parade down Union Turnpike once again with the Stanley Cup.  We may make these moves or we may not, but our goal remains steadfast, to finish our Drive4Five.  

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When will the Islanders once again parade with Lord Stanley’s Cup?

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