Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
We've been spending the early part of our summer at Islanders Point Blank taking a look around the league and playing armchair general manger, analyzing potential trade targets for Garth Snow as he looks to get his club back to the playoffs.
In part one and part two, we stressed that this is in no way indicative of what 'will' happen, only our opinion of who could be available to help provide the kind of help captain John Tavares needs to get the organization to the next level.
With the realization that the free agent market is about as weak as it has been in recent years, let's continue with part III.
308 GP - 89-122-211
We already mentioned Jonathan Drouin in part II of our series, and spoke of the tough spot Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman finds himself in with regards to the salary cap. Johnson is another player who might be made a casualty, as he is a restricted free agent coming off a $3.333 million dollar cap hit.
The diminutive 5-8, 26-year old center is as slick as they come on the offensive end but has endured two straight down years in which injuries played a big role in declining production.
After bursting on the scene with 128 points in his first 173 games (0.74 PPG) and playing 97 percent of those contests, Johnson has only been able to suit up for 82 percent of all eligible games the previous two seasons, collecting 83 points in 135 games (0.61 PPG).
An above average corsi player (51.9 career) but below average faceoff guy (49.2), the consensus is out that Johnson would not replace Frans Nielsen, whom New York sorely missed last season, especially on the defensive side of the ice.
He would add to an already dynamic offensive unit and give New York more consistency on their second line while providing a mentorship to Mathew Barzal, should the youngster survive September's training camp. It could also allow Brock Nelson to move his 6-3 frame to the wing where the team desperately needs size.
816 GP - 417-399-816
One of the most exciting goal scorers in his prime, Kovalchuk announced through his agent about his intention to return to the NHL after spending the last four seasons in the KHL.
Since his contract was terminated with official retirement papers being filed with the New Jersey Devils and the league, he would need unanimous approval from the other 30 general managers to become a free agent, which, simply put, is not going to happen. A sign and trade is the only option to get Kovalchuk into blue and orange.
New Jersey is clearly rebuilding and it's thought that Kovalchuk wants a team further along in the race for the Stanley Cup. He also mentioned his desire to stay in the New York metro area. That leaves the Islanders and Rangers as possible destinations, unless he's willing to expand to other teams in the 'area', such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston or Buffalo.
A six-time 40 goal scorer (twice going over 50) in 11 NHL seasons, there is no doubt this is the most intriguing possibility of all that have been mentioned thus far. He has played 91 percent of all eligible games in his career, proving his durability and can still snipe with the best of them.
He provides size (6-3, 220) and agility, maybe not being known as being the fastest, but using more deception. Kovalchuk didn't forget how to play in Russia, either, posting 222 points in 209 games on 89 goals, slightly down from his NHL pace (0.43 GPG vs 0.51).
Fans drool over the thought of him manning the wing with Tavares at even strength and on the power play. He clearly will not come back in his prime, now 34 years of age, and be the Kovalchuk who scored 146 goals in 239 games over a three-year stretch from 2006-2008. However, what is thought to be a relatively inexpensive cost, why wouldn't you give it a shot? Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks, yeah?