It's the debut of a new weekly column here at SNY's Islanders Point Blank, as Andy Graziano and Brian Erni will trade opinions on two of the hot topics working their way around the Islanders and give their two cents.
The last week (February 2-11) saw the Islanders go 4-2-0, with victories over the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Los Angeles Kings. Their losses were to the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings. They played extremely well in five of the six, with the Detroit loss being the only exception.
It begs the question, what do the Islanders need, if anything, at this year's trade deadline, set for Monday, February 29 at 3pm ET?
Andy Graziano: More importantly, in my opinion, what is available and at what cost? We have seen the rental market in previous years cost an absolute ton, much more than I feel general manager Garth Snow wants to spend, especially if you feel, as I do, that this team is not quite ready for a true Stanley Cup run just yet. You are not moving your prized possessions in a Dal Colle, Barzal, Pulock or Ho-Sang for a rental. New York doesn't have a 2016 second round selection, which seems to be the winning price for a rental player anyway, often times paired with a prospect.
They certainly could use an upgrade at the sixth/seventh defenseman spot, currently being held by Brian Strait and Marek Zidlicky. In terms of the forwards, if you add one (I've heard Andrew Ladd thrown around a lot), who are you taking out of the lineup? Josh Bailey is not the sexiest player and often finds himself taking the brunt of fans frustrations, but does enough things well that the coaching staff appreciates, keeping him in the lineup. I think the Islanders remain very quiet this year, with the exception of possibly a minor depth move as mentioned.
Brian Erni: I completely disagree that this team isn't ready for a run to the Final yet. If the Isles get in, I wouldn't be surprised if they're this year's Lightning. Outside of Washington, who is really that much better in the East? And the Capitals have so many playoff failures hanging around their neck that I'd certainly feel comfortable taking my chances against them in a seven-game series.
With that in mind, I, too, think the Isles remain quiet, and for good reason. I think this team has everything it needs to succeed in house. Everyone would ideally like more defensive depth, so it's hard to come by. There aren't many teams that can match up with the top four d-men the Isles have, and there's no reason to move a piece for a rental for your third pairing when the Isles have shown they have NHL-ready defensemen waiting in the wings at Bridgeport. The offense has come alive the last week, as results are finally starting to match up with the analytics. I think this team, as currently constructed, will be very dangerous come the spring.
Looking ahead, out of the three Islanders most talked about with regards to their contract/personal situations, who stays and who goes?
Andy Graziano: This has been talked about by almost everyone in Islanders media as well as the fan base over the last couple of weeks and with good reason. With the trade deadline looming, that is generally when you see players with contract statuses such as Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo both be dangled as rentals to teams ready to contend for the championship. I don't think the Islanders will do that, at all. They need to win a playoff round and you are not doing that without both of those players. The time to stockpile prospects and draft picks is over. It's perfectly clear to me that the Islanders are 'stuck' in the middle. Not quite ready to win a cup, but also not ready to sell their upcoming free agents as rentals.
I believe Nielsen will stay at around $4-4.5 million per season and Okposo will seek, and find, greener pastures elsewhere. I don't feel Snow wants to pay the 6.5 million plus that he will almost certainly be offered by a rival GM on a long term deal. That leads us to Travis Hamonic, probably the toughest to figure.
We know Travis wants to be closer to his Winnipeg home. We also know he is committed to the process, as long as it takes, and has not seen his performance slip at all. That is being a true professional. But Snow owes it to the organization and his bosses to get the best possible return for the young defenseman signed on a ludicrously good contract. And that is going to be almost impossible to find. Dustin Byfuglien just got a 7.5 million extension in Winnipeg. Jacob Trouba is reportedly asking for 6 million + to start his extension talks. See what I mean?
I think it happens, but closer to the 2016 NHL draft in Buffalo rather than the February 29 trade deadline. As I mentioned above in regards to the Islanders not being able to win without Nielsen and Okposo, it's even more pronounced for Hamonic, especially if you can't replace him with a player of a similar skill set. Right now, you can't.
Brian Erni: I know most people are assuming that Nielsen will stay and Okposo will go, but I'm going to go a little against the grain and say they both depart as free agents. There will always be someone who's willing to overpay, especially for guys who have both the skill set and leadership qualities of Okposo and Nielsen. Frans has certainly said all the right things about wanting to say, and I believe he's sincere. I just think he may very well get bowled over by a bigger offer this summer. And I agree that Okposo's asking price will be the ultimate reason for his departure. Either way, both of these guys are needed for a playoff run, so you have to take the risk, see how far they can take you this spring, and go from there.
As far as Hamonic, I'm going to be an optimist and say he stays in Brooklyn for the long haul. Obviously, no one knows Travis' personal situation, but as a fan who loves the way the guy plays and admires the kind of person he is off the ice, I hold out hope that the longer he remains an Islander, the more willing he'll be to work around the distance between him and his Manitoba home. Garth has shown he's not going to give him away, and unless someone comes along offering fair value (which isn't an easy thing to do), I don't see Travis going anywhere.