Saturday, June 24, 2017

What's Next for Snow and Isles?

The Islanders and GM Garth Snow are going for a fast and furious revamp of the roster ahead of the opening of the free agency window on July 1, but it's not clear if the team has done enough to achieve the endgame of signing John Tavares to a long-term deal before the clock begins ticking on the final year of his six year, $33 million contract.

Adding much maligned winger Jordan Eberle straight up for Ryan Strome on Thursday was a nice start, but most thought that Eberle wouldn't be the only big name coming to Brooklyn.

So far, he is.

In a lot of ways the perception is just as important as the reality for the Islanders in the short-term. One would think that Snow wants to get Tavares under contract before temptation gets the best of his star center, because if he goes through the summer without a deal in place his value to the club will only decrease.

If Tavares makes it all the way to next July without a contract he'll be worthless to the team--and free to sign wherever he chooses. That would be a nightmare for the Islanders, and possibly career suicide for Snow, who has been trying to make up for a horrible year that saw him overpay for Andrew Ladd, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck (in addition to botching the management of the team's goalie trio) all in the final two weeks of June. On Saturday the Isles GM finally pulled the trigger on a Travis Hamonic deal, hauling in a first and second-rouund pick in next year's draft as well as another second-round pick for either 2019 or 2020, with Hamonic and a fourth-round pick in either 2019 or 2020 going the other way.

What it means for the Islanders is that they've temporarily restocked the cupboard with some draft picks that can either be used to make another deal or be saved for the future. The Islanders currently have two first-rounders and two-second rounders in next year's draft, and Snow did not rule out using them to make another acquisition for a team that is a) trying to get better and b) trying to sign John Tavares pronto.

“This was a situation that we felt we could capitalize on bringing in some assets, whether we use those in the future in the draft or use them as a currency in a future player transaction,” Snow said on Saturday. “That’s a good luxury for our organization to have.”

Starting with the expansion draft the Islanders have been one of the most active teams in the league. They dealt their first-round pick in the draft along with a second-round pick in the 2019 draft plus defensive prospect Jake Bischoff to get Vegas to take Mikhail Grabovski's $5 million cap hit off their hands (Vegas also selected J.F. Berube instead of one of the players they valued, also a good deal).

Then they spun Strome for Eberle in a move that added $3.5 to their cumulative cap but will surely pay offensive dividends.

And finally the Hamonic deal, which freed up another $3.875 in annual cap hit, bringing the Islanders total cap space to over $9 million.

The Islanders would probably (definitely?) like to make another deal for a forward, but other than the aforementioned draft picks and some prospects that appear to be untouchable, they don't really have any players of value.

Restricted free agent Calvin de Haan will need a new contract, and hopefully, Tavares will be next in line.

The problem is that on paper the Islanders don't look a whole lot better than they were two weeks ago. Hamonic, a key component of their defense despite the fact that he had a few subpar seasons, is gone. The team lacks a true No.1 on the blue line and Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are unproven commodoties who may be in over their heads next season.

To top it off, Eberle had his worst year as a pro and Edmonton wanted him gone, particularly after a post-season that saw him go goalless. He's an intriguing talent that could blossom with Tavares--the pair had chemistry at the 2009 World Juniors for Canada--but it's certainly not a guarantee that he'll be a revelation in Brooklyn.

There's still a lot of work to be done in Brooklyn to make the Islanders a contender. As crunch time nears Garth Snow is under the gun. His next deal will be the biggest of his 11-year tenure as the Islanders' GM. If it's a good one, it could open the door to a re-up from Tavares.

And make no mistake, that's what all this last-minute cramming from Snow is all about.