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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Isles Have Core to Build Upon As Free Agency Looms

Let me just start by saying this: not everything in this post will be sunshine and roses.

I'll talk about the bad news first: According to multiple sources, including @HockeyBreak on Twitter, Chris Botta at Islanders Point Blank, and most recently NYI Faceoff Circle, Trevor Gillies and Micheal Haley are expected back on the Island; Zenon Konopka, however, is not.

I can't even begin to explain this one, seeing as Gillies was suspended twice by the NHL for irresponsible hits, and will most likely be playing as a marked man for the rest of his career no matter what. Not to mention the man only plays two to three minutes a game, and those come when fisticuffs are needed. He's too much of a worry on the ice and in my opinion a waste of a roster spot, but the Islanders would rather keep him than hang onto a guy like Konopka, who in the course of a year has more than proven himself as an enforcer, a leader and a heart and soul player on the Island. The way he plays and sticks up for his teammates, all while battling his own knee injuries in private, are beyond commendable; also, he loves the fans and he's expressed his desire to stay in New York.

I'm not saying Gillies isn't a great guy off the ice, because according to many people I've spoken to, he is. Even a Pens fan went out of her way to say how nice he was when she met him at a signing once, while he played for another team. It's the idea that this guy has done enough damage to the Isles' image, while Konopka has done much to give people the idea that this team is a doormat no longer, that bothers me. Why should we reward a player who had admittedly built a rapport with Isles management, but who gets disciplined at the drop of a hat? And why, conversely, should we let go of a player who, no matter what he might do outside of the arena, brings his proverbial lunch pail to work every single day and is quick to defend his team to the very end? Sure, we can always get another fighter or grinding center (NYI Faceoff Circle mentions bringing up Casey Cizikas for the fourth-line center position), but Konopka brings too much to the table regarding character and leadership, especially when you consider the Islanders are a team needing direction in the form of a stable leader.

While I shake my head angrily and sadly over THAT, however, I also have a lot to talk about regarding the Isles' injury situation. It looks as though the team will be going from depleted at D to having way too many guys to deal with. Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau, Andrew MacDonald, and Mark Streit (a lot of Ms) are all coming back from injury, adding to the group of Jack Hillen, Bruno Gervais, Milan Jurcina, Travis Hamonic and Ty Wishart that was left over from this season. Radek Martinek is an impending UFA, and while he's an underrated D, something tells me he won't be re-signed, if only for roster space reasons. Juice, Eaton, Streit, A-Mac and Mottau are also signed through next season or beyond, and Jack Hillen is an RFA who should receive a qualifying offer. Gervais is the weak link here in my opinion, since he's on the brink of 27 years old and hasn't shown much in the way of development, as far as I can tell. This past season he has actually regressed from his usual 15/16-point average, scoring six points (all assists) and posting a -14 in 53 games. Compare that to Hillen (22 points, -5, 64 GP), Hamonic (26 pts, +4, 62 GP) and MacDonald (27 pts, +9, 60 GP).

While MacDonald, Hamonic and Hillen have improved and stated their cases to remain in the NHL, Gervais remains an enigma- some games, he's involved in offensive play and makes good plays on D, but other games he looks completely lost. I would be a little surprised if he were to stay on the Island for next season, seeing as we have defensemen signed and more defensemen who deserve the spots. Also, I'd expect Wishart to go down to the A for space reasons.

Now on to the forwards. The top line of Matt Moulson-John Tavares-PA Parenteau scored big this season. Tavares led the team in scoring with 29 goals, 67 points altogether, a significant improvement over his 54-point rookie campaign (though he was second-worst on the team in plus-minus with a -16). Moulson and Parenteau tied at second with 53 points apiece; Moulson had a second consecutive 30-goal season, ending with 31, while Parenteau posted a respectable 20 goals. Both wingers have clinched contract extensions- Moulson for three years, Parenteau for one- while Tavares is entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Expect a deal in the works for JT soon, especially since two other Isles forwards have already been signed for the long term.

Those forwards are Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo. Grabner shocked everyone with his 34-goal, 52-point rookie campaign (and got a Calder Trophy nomination to boot), while Okposo came back from injury halfway through the season to post 20 points. Both forwards are a part of the "youth movement" Garth Snow is banking so heavily upon for the team's success. Grabner is speedy and has hands to match, while Okposo is gritty, hardworking and has also matured into a leader on the ice. In fact, the same week the KO deal was done, former captain Doug Weight announced his retirement, making me wonder if Okposo would be getting a nod for the C. I still think with a guy like Mark Streit around, the chance of him getting it now is slightly diminished; however, Streit is here for only another two years, giving Okposo (who will be 25 by then) time to grow into the captaincy.

We also have one Frans Nielsen to think about. The guy is a playmaker, not a finisher, but he also posted 13 goals and 44 points in 2010-11 and worked wonders playing alongside Grabner. Moreover, he works beautifully on both sides of the puck and seven of his 13 goals came shorthanded. Yes, seven shorties. And he's the best shootout/penalty shot specialist in the league with something like a 57% accuracy percentage. Yes, really. Don't quote me on the exact stat, but it's in there somewhere. Long story short, he's still young (27), he's in the final year of his contract as well this coming season, and he came at a heck of a bargain ($525,000 a year). If the Isles are smart, they won't let go of this guy.

And of course, let us not forget about the goalies. The Islanders recently signed Anders Nilsson to an entry-level contract, and Al Montoya is signed through next year. Also, Kevin Poulin (remember him?) is coming back from his season-ending knee injury and should make a case for the Island again this year. We also have Mikko Koskinen to consider, as well as that other goalie whom we grabbed off waivers. With Rick DiPietro a constant question mark, the Isles should allow room for him (I suppose- they will anyway), but consider Poulin and start Montoya. Nilsson should see some time in exhibition, of course, to see where he stands before the start of the season. It seems a lot like we went from having no goalies to having a surplus of them, so the Isles have to figure out where everything goes.

Overall, I think we have reason to be happy for next season's start. With a full, healthy roster, who knows what might happen? :) Next post I'll talk about Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau- two questions for the Isles. At least, as far as I see it.

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