Breaking Up The Band?

The New York Islanders will have a new look heading into the 2016-17 season. That could include the best fourth line in hockey.

Newsday reports that the Islanders have not had any conversations with the agent for Matt Martin since the season ended. It was pretty much assumed that Martin would be the easiest of three big unrestricted free agents (Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo) to re-sign.  Martin is expected to test the market on July 1st and he should.

This is the 27-year-old’s chance to cash in. He is coming off a four-year, four million-dollar contract. The 2008 fifth-round pick will definitely double his salary. Martin’s agent feels he could even triple it on the open market. He has had more hits than Adele, leading the league for the past five seasons. Martin also scored a career high ten goals.

His linemate, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million dollar extension late last week, probably signaling the end of Martin’s time with the Isles.

If Martin leaves the only NHL team he has known, it will be bittersweet. He has become this generation’s “Mr. Islander”. His tireless charity work has been recognized by the league as he was named a finalist for the NHL Foundation Player of the Year Award, which is awarded annually to the player “who applies the core values of hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community.”

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Among the charities he has raised money for are the NYPD Widows and Children’s Fund, the Boomer Esiason Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis, the Islanders Children’s Foundation and his own Matt Martin Hit Foundation.

Martin’s open-market value might be inflated due to his chemistry with Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. That line has been the only consistent one for the team the past two seasons. A team who potentially signs Martin to a big contract might be expecting more from him.

The Replacements?

The potential void left if Martin does leave can be filled cheaply. The most logical choice is Nikolay Kulemin. I know I said cheaply, Kulemin has $4.188 cap hit for the next two years. The Isles would not be bringing in any more salary if Kulemin joins the fourth line.  It’s not ideal to have a four-plus million-dollar player on your fourth line. The Russian had a miserable season. Martin even scored more than Kulemin (10 to 9). His possession numbers were down as well. Despite his lack of scoring, Kulemin did perform well on the penalty kill, which ranked fourth in the league.

The Isles could look to Bridgeport for their man. Mike Halmo played 20 games with the Isles in 2013-14. While the 5’11” Halmo is four inches shorter than Martin, he is as physical. The 25-year-old can also put the puck in the net, scoring 22 goals with the Sound Tigers this season.

(Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)
(Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Isles look outside the organization to fill the potential void, there are a couple of unrestricted free agents that could be options. Dale Weise scored a career-high 14 goals for the Canadiens and Blackhawks this season. The Isles would not bring him in for that. He’s a excellent forechecker, who like Martin, can get physical. His possession metrics are solid.

The right-handed shot would not be an even swap with the left-handed Martin. A brand-new fourth line could be former if Cizikas moves up to the third line if Nielsen walks on July 1st. Cizikas’ contract is now paying him like a top-nine forward. The 25-year-old scored a career-high 30 points playing just over 12 and a half minutes per game.

Taking Cizikas’ spot in the middle could be Alan Quine. Head coach Jack Capuano had enough faith in the rookie after playing the final two regular-season games to insert him in the postseason lineup. The move paid off as Quine netted the double-overtime winning goal in Game 5 against the Florida Panthers. Quine is a restricted free agent who will likely be qualified. Another inexpensive replacement, giving general manager Garth Snow the flexibility to acquire a top-line forward.