Thursday, July 5, 2012

Assessing The Islanders

It's been an interesting week already with Zach Parise and butt buddy Ryan Suter choosing to sign identical contracts with perennial contender Minnesota. I have my own thoughts on that but will hold off for now. While there continues to be plenty of discussion on the Fourth Of July fireworks rippling through the NHL, Islander GM Garth Snow has quietly gone about his business trying to improve the Islanders.

In one of the toughest divisions, the Isles know they got their work cut out this offseason. Before July 1 hit, it was a foregone conclusion that key scorer P.A. Parenteau wouldn't be back. Snow was always going to have trouble replacing his scoring. He decided to take a chance on former Sabre Brad Boyes, agreeing on a one-year $1 million deal. The 30-year old Boyes once scored 43 goals with St. Louis in '07-08. Since totaling 66 goals and 137 points back-to-back seasons with the Blues, his numbers have fallen off dramatically.

Boyes was traded to the Sabres for an '11 second round pick last year. He was supposed to help Buffalo in the playoffs. After 5-9-14 in 21 games, he scored only once during a first round loss to Philadelphia. Much was expected from the former Toronto No.1 pick in 2000. Buffalo was hoping he'd return to the success he had in St. Louis. Instead, he went through the worst year of his career scoring just eight goals with 15 assists for a total of 23 points in 65 games. Boyes drew the ire of our resident Sabre blogger Brian Sanborn and many others in Western New York.

What happened? Well, a knee injury cost him 13 games during the first half. Perhaps he never fully recovered. It would be a better explanation than a capable scorer falling flat. Now, he'll be asked to join John Tavares on the Islanders' power play. Whether he wins a first line spot alongside JT91 and Matt Moulson remains to be seen. Parenteau became one of their best playmakers. For his career, Boyes has 158 goals and 214 assists for 372 points in 558 games. If there is one concern it's a drop off in power play production.

Boyes Got The Power?

            GP         PPG          PPA         PPP
'07-08  82          11             8              19
'08-09  82          16             19            35
'09-10  82           2              8              10
'10-11  83           6              7              13
'11-12  65           2              6               8

Note: Boyes played in 83 games during '10-11 due to the Blues trade to Buffalo.

Either he's not the same player or he's due for a bounce back. For one year, Snow's hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

Boyes wasn't Snow's only free agent move. He also signed tough defenseman Matt Carkner for three years, $4.5 million and added pugilist Eric Boulton for the league minimum. Beefing up the blueline is never bad. Especially with ex-Sen Carkner who can also double up front if necessary. He's one of the league's toughest fighters. As we saw in the first round against the Rangers, he can fly off the handle like with Brian Boyle, earning a one-game suspension. No question Rangers/Islanders will be at a wild level with Carkner and Boulton added. Boulton basically fights but can sometimes lose his head. A reason Hasan and other Devil fans were happy he was bought out. With the Rangers adding Arron Asham and former Islander Micheal Haley to Mike Rupp, there's sure to be a lot of fisticuffs.

Carkner is serviceable. He can play bottom pair and help out a blueline that includes vet acquisition Lubomir Visnovsky. With a D that features captain Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic along with rookie hopefuls Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness, Carkner won't necessarily have to play all 82. A lot hinges on the development of the kids while Visnovsky, Streit, MacDonald and Hamonic will comprise of the top four.

The 35-year old Visnovsky will be asked to help anchor the back end with Streit. There's no denying the Slovak's puck skills. He's an offensive blueliner who possesses a healthy shot that can boost the power play. Though it is odd how he went from amassing a career best 68 points (18-50-68) in '10-11 with Anaheim to only 27 (6-21-27) this past season. He missed time with a finger injury but returned to play in 68 games. Much of Lubomir's '10-11 success came on the man-advantage, posting 31 power play points (5-26-31). Snow got him for a 2012 second round pick. Despite being in the league 11 years, he's only made the postseason three times. Twice with LA and once with Anaheim. Visnovsky is 0-4-4 in 18 playoff games.

On paper, it looks solid. Visnovsky can log important minutes along with Streit, MacDonald and Hamonic. The hope is that two rookies will impress enough in camp to make the roster. At the very least, the Isles should start with Carkner in their top six. How long he stays there is anyone's guess. Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios are all unrestricted. Of the three, Eaton would be the most logical. A vet shot blocker who had brings leadership.

Here's the current Islander roster including key restricted Matt Martin:

G Evgeni Nabokov
G Rick DiPietro
G Kevin Poulin

D Mark Streit
D Andrew MacDonald
D Lubomir Visnovsky
D Travis Hamonic
D Matt Carkner

C John Tavares
C Frans Nielsen
C Marty Reasoner
C Jesse Joensuu

LW Matt Moulson
LW Josh Bailey
LW Nino Niederreiter
LW Eric Boulton

RW Kyle Okposo
RW Michael Grabner
RW Brad Boyes
RW Matt Martin

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