Following the trade deadline and continuing onward with a disappointing Islanders campaign, many fans have started to look forward to the offseason. The Islanders will likely have a nice pick in the 2014 draft and they’ll be buyers in the free agent market. With the departure of Thomas Vanek to the Montreal Canadiens, that leaves a pretty gaping hole on the first line next to Tavares and Okposo. However, it’s important to note that the team has several other holes in their lineup that will need to be addressed, such as defense and goaltending. We’ll examine who the top five unrestricted free agents the Islanders should target, in no particular order.
Andrej Meszaros, Defenseman
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m actually a decently big fan of the 28 year old. He was recently traded to the Boston Bruins for a 3rd round pick as a rental and will likely hit free agency in the summer. Meszaros is a big defenseman who isn’t afraid to be physical and has an offensive upside. This season he’s on pace for 25 points
and currently has about 17. He sits with a +1 after a season with a pretty bad defensive team in Philadelphia (the Flyers are currently 21st overall in goals against). He’s not afraid to join the rush and can play about 17-20 minutes per game.
I’d be very interested in the Islanders trying to swing a move for the 6’2, 223 lb. Slovakian in the offseason. However, I do think he might be a hot commodity due to his size and his versatility on the blue line. If perhaps it costs the Islanders something along the lines of five years and about $5 million per, I’d be content with the Islanders bringing in Meszaros.
Ryan Callahan, Right Wing
Ryan Callahan? You mean the same Ryan Callahan that the Rangers just traded for? Why yes, yes I do.
Ryan Callahan was asking for an exorbitant amount of money from the Rangers to return for the foreseeable future on
Broadway, but in the end was he was traded along with two draft picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Marty St. Louis. Whether or not you agree with the trade is one thing, but for one I would love to see Callahan don blue and orange for years to come.
Callahan isn’t a top offensive talent, but he plays the style of hockey the Islanders want to play- tough, gritty play and players willing to block shots and be physical.
The issue here is that the Lightning might try to resign the American winger. If they are willing to part with quite the money, they will likely have a good chance to do so. However, if Callahan does hit the open market and is asking for around $6.5 million, I’d consider making the deal despite it being an overpay. The type of leadership that a Callahan brings is invaluable to a young team like the Islanders.
Thomas Vanek, Left Wing
Oh yeah! The guy they just traded is a free agent. He also had some decent things to say about his time here, and even at one point mentioned that he’d consider re-signing even if he was traded.
Thomas Vanek next to John Tavares was amazing to watch this season and he even admitted that when he stated that it was
“the best line he ever played on.” He played extremely well in his time with the Islanders and the bright spot of this move would be that we know what Thomas can do here, unlike other free agents.
A description of his skills are unnecessary, but essentially Vanek is a top tier goal scorer with great instincts and vision. Almost any team would welcome a player with his offensive ability.
This likely won’t come to fruition as Vanek did turn down a seven year, $50 million deal during the season, but who’s to say that Garth Snow doesn’t offer Vanek even more in free agency? The worst thing that could happen would be that he says no. I say it’s worth a shot. He knows the team and the core players, and if he really did enjoy it here he’d be welcomed back with open arms.
Mike Cammalleri, Left Wing
Mike Cammalleri is interesting to me because of his versatility at the forward spot and ability to score the puck. Assuming the Islanders miss on Vanek in the summer, the next best option would be Cammalleri in my opinion.
Cammalleri is 31 years old and has never scored 40 goals, but he’s gotten pretty close- he scored 39 with the Flames in 08-09. He has great hands and a knack for finding the back of the net and he’s done it for years. He’s taken a step back in recent years, but this is also on a Calgary Flames team which hasn’t been very consistent in the past few years.
If Cammalleri’s contract demands fall somewhere in the four years, $4 million per range, the Islanders should be right in the bidding for the veteran winger. There apparently was not enough interest in him to be moved at the deadline, so it will be interesting to see how his free agency plays out this summer.
Matt Niskanen, Defenseman
This might be the most unlikely name mentioned here, but a guy like Niskanen would really help the Islanders for years to come.
The Finnish d-man is only 27 years of age and will likely get a lot of offers on July 1st. Niskanen’s stats this year have been EA Sports-esque- 37 points to go along with a jaw-dropping +32 rating. He’s very solid in his own zone and handles the
puck very well, some traits that the Islanders defensemen could certainly improve upon.
While his production is likely a bit inflated due to playing on such a great offensive team, it should be noted that his shooting percentage has jumped from 6% to 8% which is quite good for a defenseman. As a benchmark, Erik Karlsson is around 8.5% which is quite the name to be compared to.
Niskanen will cost a king’s ransom this offseason but this should be target number one for the Islanders this offseason. I’d predict a 7 year, $6 million per sort of deal due to the competitive nature of his services.
Jaroslav Halak, Goaltender- Consensus Choice of Islanders Fans
I would have put Halak in my top five for sure if he wasn’t such an overwhelmingly popular name with fans when I polled Facebook and Twitter.
Halak has seen a few different cities in the past few days. After moving from St. Louis to Buffalo in a Ryan Miller trade, he
was dealt a few days later to the Washington Capitals. Will the Capitals hold onto the net-minder? It’s certainly possible, but it appears as if Halak will at least try to gauge his value in the free agent market.
Halak has had a solid year, posting a .917 save percentage. His goals against average is also not bad at 2.23. When you look at a guy like Halak, the reason he fits so perfectly with this Islander team is that he’s more than capable to take the reigns for a little while, but could be a serviceable backup to a youngster who might prove themselves in the next few years (Poulin, Nilsson, McAdams, or someone else).
I would seriously consider overpaying Halak for three or four years if it comes to that. Having a quality goaltender is huge for any team, but especially for an Islander team which hasn’t seen consistency between the pipes in years.
Important to note is that I don’t believe the Islander will sign all these players, just that they should be in the running for them. There are a lot of other names that were omitted, but should definitely be on their radar if these don’t pan out. Some of those are Josi Pitkanen, Dany Heatley, Milan Michalek, Brooks Orpik, Jonas Hiller, Jussi Jokinen and more. When you start to look at some of the restricted guys it gets even crazier. As we get closer and closer to the offseason, this list can certainly change. However, one thing is extremely clear- to avoid an all-out revolt, the Islanders are going to need to sign someone of importance. The fans are really starting to get restless, and who can blame them?