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The Three Musts For the New York Islanders This Offseason

06/01/2016 –The New York Islanders have potential to make a deep playoff run in 2016-2017 after showing promise in this year’s tournament, and here’s what they need to do.

⦁ Find a Winger for John Tavares to play with

Losing Kyle Okposo to free agency this offseason would loosen up much needed cap space and allow the Islanders to sign a new and fresh L/R winger for John Tavares.

On the downside though, losing Okposo won’t be easy for the Islanders as the natural right winger had 64 points this season and tyed a career high of 42 assists. The big question remains — who will he be replaced by?

The most talked about name in hockey right now is Tampa Bay Lightning center and captain, Steven Stamkos. The former sixty goal scorer put up as many points as Okposo this year with 64, and had 14 more goals (36 in total).

Seems great right? Well, here’s the problem; Stamkos is looking for at least a nine million dollar long term deal and the Islanders generally aren’t in the business of spending large portions of their cap in free agency — especially with Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin as pending UFAs, and Casey Cizikas, Ryan Strome and Shane Prince as pending RFAs this season. Who knows what will happen in the off-season though, as the Islanders new owners could have a different trading philasophy as Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin getting ready to take over.

On the other end, the right handed Tampa Bay Stamkos has a larger desire to play center. Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Islanders tell him ‘Steven, where do you want to play? Okay, you can play there, but sometimes we might try you here.’ Which is reasonable for both parties.

There are plenty other free agents to target before we hop on the Steven Stamkos train. Loui Eriksson had 63 points points and another thirty goal year at the age of thirty with an asking price of seven million dollars (a low contract like this might give the ‘Isles more room to re-sign other players).

The rumored names have been even larger than Eriksson, with notorious LA King power forward Milan Lucic in the mix and St. Louis Blues captain David Backes as well. Lucic, a physically suited veteran well known for his hitting ability, posted 54 points this season, his first as a ‘King. There are not many players left in this league who can put up great statistics points while maintaining their role as an enforcer / hitter. Backes, much like Stamkos, is a natural right handed center; he provided 45 points this season and has the leadership ability to send a team far into a postseason. These types of grizzly veterans who the Islanders are targeting can bring their talent, experience and leadership to the young core of Islanders.

⦁ Keep the Fourth Line Intact

The Islanders fourth line trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck has been above and beyond what a team could ask for out of a fourth line. They hit, they fight, they block shots, win the one on one battles, score, and most importantly provide momentum. The duo of Clutterbuck and Martin have led the league in hits for the eighth straight year now. The hockey greats such as Don Cherry have even gone as far as calling them “The best fourth line ever.”

The ‘Isles face a dilemma as Matt Martin’s asking price is around 2.5 million and the club appears to be contingent on offering 1.5-2 million dollars. After having a season high of ten goals and leading the league in hits again, Martin feels it’s time to cash in.

Czikas, contrary to Martin, is not the hitter but is a renounced face-off winner and a shot blocking machine. Clutterbuck, one of ‘Isles best defensive forwards, along with the other two have been among the top penalty killing duos in the league — killing off over 40 straight penalties at one point this season.

Cznikas is set to be a restricted free agent asking for the most money of RFAs on the Islanders.

Clutterbuck was hitting and scoring goals for his line at the right time this season with fifteen goals in total — impressive numbers for a GM looking at fourth lineers. He’s second in hits amongst Islanders, trailing only Matt Martin. Lastly, they finished with a plus rating — remarkable for a fourth line.

⦁ Trade Jaroslav Halak

Earlier this season Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak went down with a groin injury during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which left the spotlight to free agent acquisition Thomas Greiss, and the young waiver claimed J.F. Berube. Greiss stepped in this year and shined — with a stellar .923 save percentage during the playoffs and a .925 in the regular season (including a shutout).
The young and promising 24 year old Berube went 3-2-1 in his first season in the NHL with a .914 save percentage.
Jaroslav Halak had a .917 save percentage this season which coming from a veteran who has had .934 save percentages is not all that impressive. Halak is currently making 4.5 million dollars years for the next pair of seasons. If you can trade Halak and dump the salary cap off your shoulders and use the money for free agency, then why not do it? Thomas Greiss has been sensational and it will get young Berube more valuable time and experience. Having a starter in Thomas Greiss that you only have to pay 1.5 million dollars sounds promising.

The Islanders can make a deeper playoff run in 2016-2017 then they could this year if they implement some of these solutions — let’s see what happens.

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