Last night was a flurry of activity around the hockey blog- and media-osphere as official schedules were released, including the Islanders’.
The Islanders reported via Twitter and their website that forward Matt Martin and defenseman Ty Wishart did not accept their qualifying offers, and thus remain restricted free agents.
So for those of you unfamiliar with RFA status, what does this mean?
Well, a number of things can happen, according to About.com. Another team will be able to extend an offer sheet to Martin or Wishart, which the Isles will have to respond to (either by matching the offer or letting the player walk) within seven days. Offer sheets are relatively rare in the NHL these days, so no telling if that will happen.
Arbitration was also an option (basically re-negotiation of the offer between player/agent and original team), but the deadline for that was over a week ago, and as far as I can tell there was no mention of either Martin or Wishart going. A follower of mine on Twitter clarified, “No arbitration. The Isles have a no-contract, no-play policy, so they sit [until a contract is done].”
So… I guess we all sit on our hands until this is all worked out. Mind you, both players have until December 1 to make up their mind on whether to play or not (for the Isles, the deadline is the start of the season), otherwise they can’t play for the rest of the year. Slightly frustrating, but nothing seems outwardly negative just yet, so we shall see.
UPDATE: (7/18/12) The Isles announced that Wishart has agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way deal with the club. One down, one to go, and Ty joins the fray of prospects aiming for the #6 D spot on the team (Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, and Calvin de Haan among them).
Eight young Islanders players/prospects received qualifying offers from the team this week.
Sean Backman, Justin DiBenedetto, Mark Katic, Mikko Koskinen, Tomas Marcinko, Matt Martin, Rhett Rakhshani and Ty Wishart all received QOs, according to SoundTigers.com. Martin has become a mainstay in the Islanders’ lineup, while Rakhshani, Wishart, Koskinen, Katic and DiBenedetto have all seen ice time on the Island in recent seasons. Of the remaining players, Marcinko and Wishart may be looked at more closely soon, as Wishart was a solid defenseman and Marcinko had a career year offensively (as well as in PIM) with Bridgeport this past season. The latter may serve us well as fourth-line center at some point next season (provided Marty Reasoner is a disappointment again… hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?).
Katic, Rakhshani, and DiBo will be playing in Europe next season, so the Islanders retain their NHL rights to those players as well.
There’s no question that when it comes to this summer’s NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, the Islanders’ focus needs to be on defense. Our blueline was perhaps (if not certainly) one of the worst in the league (and I even graded them too leniently, more than likely). We need all of the help we can get, and there are some places within and outside the system to look.
John Link’s article on The Checking Line about potential Isles draftees gives us a bit of a clearer picture regarding defensive prospects, and it’s a good look at the projected top three defensemen in the draft — Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba and Morgan Rielly. I especially like the sound of Matt Dumba, considering scouts call him the most complete D in his own end in the draft, but one of those three would suffice. There’s a question within the question, here, though: Do we focus on offensive defenseman, or closer to a stay-at-home kind?
The Isles do have an offensive push on this blueline to begin with; Mark Streit immediately pops into mind. Although his scoring has fallen off somewhat (and he only has one more year on the Island), the captain still factors in on the PP and can join the rush almost effortlessly. Travis Hamonic posted 22 points as well (most of them assists), proving that he’s more of a complete defensive player as well. Andrew MacDonald is right behind him, though I think his game has shifted a bit from his first season on the Island to more of a shot-blocking, down-low defensive style. As far as drafting goes, Murray (from what I’ve read) has tremendous puckmoving ability, and Rielly was a point-per-game player before suffering a season-ending knee injury last November. We haven’t had a stay-at-home defenseman since Brendan Witt’s days on the Island, so I don’t know how feasible having one now is, especially with that type of player diminishing throughout the league.
Looking at who we already have in the system, Calvin de Haan is an offensive forward — at least, his numbers in Oshawa indicate as much, plus he’s a great skater. His only issue seems to be the injury bug, which has held up his progress in Bridgeport and has some wondering if he can last in the NHL. His point totals have suffered because of his injuries, but he’s still got a high upside. Aaron Ness is smaller height-wise, but seems to be sturdier, and can put a few points up as well. Ty Wishart is bigger, at 6’4, and can also help out. He played better than I expected on the Island last season after being traded from Tampa Bay along with a pick for Dwayne Roloson.
Which brings us to size. The average for last season’s blueline is around 6’1 and 209 pounds (an upgrade from a couple of years ago — Mark Streit is now the smallest defenseman at 5’11 and 193, and 5-foot-10-if-he’s-lucky Jack Hillen is elsewhere). Milan Jurcina, Steve Staios, and Mark Eaton are all on the outs. Our biggest issue, as far as I can see, is with being able to use the body on opposing forwards, so we need D who can and are willing to do that (which, again, is why I like the sound of Matt Dumba so far — at least, if we can’t get Ryan Murray). Matt Donovan should be coming into the fold next season, which is helpful – he plays a pretty physical game and can still join in offensively. He’s average-sized at 6’0, but if he brings the hits, it won’t matter. Of course, this leaves us with an impossibly young blueline, which Garth Snow may have to remedy in FA (if he can — more on who’s leaving and who could come in at a later date).
The bottom line? Draft for the blueline. The Isles have plenty of forwards (centers out the wazoo), and as long as players like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and of course Tavares and Moulson keep developing, we won’t have to worry much about offense. It’s always good to stockpile some anyway, but the blueline is hurting, and it should be the organization’s priority. I would expect (and hope) for one of these young defensive draftees to be in an Isles jersey come June 22.
Admittedly, I’m not a whiz with our farm system. However, there were definitely some stand-outs from Bridgeport that need addressing, so what better time to address them than now? Let’s get on with it. (I suck at intros, so bear with me.)
Anyway, the biggest standouts in my eyes on the skaters’ side were Micheal Haley and Casey Cizikas. Haley is a no-brainer. His playing style is go-go-go from one whistle to the next. He’ll hit and fight anything that moves, and when he’s in the lineup, there’s an extra edge to this Isles team. His 57 PIM in 14 games attest to this. I only wish he’d played more games than that — it’s nice to see this team just a bit nasty. Grade: A-
Cizikas, meanwhile, had four assists and was a +1 in 15 games. Nothing overly spectacular, but he was certainly efficient. His faceoff numbers could use a bit more stability, but that comes with being a 21-year-old in the NHL. Hockey’s Future calls him a very versatile player and says that if he’s paired with the right players, he can become a legitimate threat. Who knows who exactly the “right players” are — he got paired a lot with Michael Grabner, who as we all know had a lackluster season, and overall he didn’t log that many minutes. But for what he was, he was decent. Grade: B
- Rhett Rakhshani played a handful of games, but what I remember most was his willingness to get to the front of the net and try to make things happen. No points in his stint on the Island, but certainly some energy. The Isles had higher hopes for him early on, but six years later, there isn’t much to show for it. Hockey’s Future calls him “unlikely to reach potential.”
- Matt Donovan joined the Isles late in the season, and when he did, he brought some physicality and some backbone to the D. Definitely something we need. I’ll be interested to see how he develops in the near future (and if he’s good enough during training camp to make the team, which I think he may be… either way, we need a solid blueline).
- Aaron Ness also provided some good defensive play in nine games played, as well as disciplined play (two PIM altogether, on a blueline featuring Steve Staios and Travis Hamonic, no less).
- Trevor Gillies… eh.
- Calvin de Haan and Ty Wishart played only one game apiece, so that’s not much of a fair assessment.
Now, on to the goalies. Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin each had their tough matches, but they managed to play decently despite those hiccups. Nilsson pulled a .911% and a 2.75 GAA in three games started, while Poulin started six and posted a .907% and a 3.04. (stats here toward the bottom) Each goalie still has a ways to go before challenging for a top position, though Poulin arguably has an inside track (and Nilsson started in a blowout of the Devils, in which he didn’t face many tough shots). Interesting note: HF ranks Nilsson above Poulin in the Isles’ prospect hierarchy, though they each have the same grade. I personally find Nilsson’s size more favorable, but Poulin’s athleticism can’t be discounted. Grades- Nilsson: B; Poulin: B+
Overall, the Isles are said to have stockpiled a talented group of prospects; with the Islanders mired in the bottom five in the league for a number of years now, homegrown talent is important, and the organization at least understands that. However, without the right veterans to help develop these guys — and that has been a problem for ages — it’ll be hard to transform this into a winning team. The bright side is that players who have been in the league for two or three years (such as John Tavares, among others) are maturing well, and can perhaps help guide this team in the right direction. Then again, the best players in the league have playoff experience, and… well, it leads right back to the need for a balance of savvy vets and young upstarts to take this team to the next level. Chicken or egg? You decide.
Until next time.
I’m slightly worried.
Tim Wallace has, yes, slammed his way into my little heart. And the Isles have now placed him on waivers.
The 27-year-old scored only one point-an assist- in 31 games on the Island after being called up, but his physical play had me in love. I just hope no one grabs him and that he just goes right down to Bridgeport and stays in our farm system.
Also, Ty Wishart was sent back down to Bridgeport, which has me wondering… daaa-dum, daaa-dum… is a certain… defenseman… who wears… number 3… coming back from injury? (GOD, I HOPE SO.)
We shall see.
According to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers website, forward Rhett Rakhshani has been returned to the AHL. The Islanders have also called up defenseman Ty Wishart.
Rakhshani had played five games with the club this season, scoring no points but creating great energy on a line with Josh Bailey and Matt Martin. The line had been cited at least once for producing the team’s best chances on offense.
Wishart, meanwhile, has not played yet with the Islanders this season, though after being traded to the Isles from Tampa Bay in the deal that included goalie Dwayne Roloson, he played 20 games, had five points and a +5 rating. On the Sound Tigers, Wishart has 15 points in 48 games (4 G, 11 A). Given the Islanders’ defensive woes since Travis Hamonic’s injury, it’ll be interesting to see what he can contribute.