With the NHL season finished and the Kings having won the Stanley Cup, the off-season is in full swing.  The draft is tomorrow night. GM’s are allowed to speak with free agents to discuss the parameters of a deal and any potential trades that might arise.

I recently sat down with Islanders beat writer Arthur Staple to discuss all things Islanders, the draft, free agency, trades, etc.  Entering their final season at the Coliseum, this will be a somber year in regard to the arena that has had so much history.

Knowing the history surrounding the Nassau Coliseum how hard will it be to say goodbye to it? Personally and for the fans.

I’m sure it’s going to be tough for the fans, especially the ones who’ve been going to the Coliseum since the dynasty days. For all its faults, the building certainly offers a direct link to the great history of the Isles. Hopefully the fans will get to enjoy the final season, on and off the ice.

As for me, I will definitely miss some things about the old place. It has the best press box view of any building in the league and it’s easy to navigate. I don’t have the historical connection the fans do, so I won’t be that upset when they move.

 

What are the players feelings about leaving the Coliseum?

I think a few of the core guys will miss the ease of getting around -- most of them live within a few miles of the arena and I don’t see a ton of them moving to Brooklyn, given that the team will still practice on Long Island. There aren’t a lot of “Page Six” players on this team and that’s by design; they’re young guys and they like to have fun, but most of them enjoy their relative quiet away from the city.

So I think some will miss the close connection to the Island, but I don’t see too many of them jumping into the full Brooklyn experience just yet.

 

What is the general perception of the Barclays Center? Are there any plans to modify the arena to accommodate hockey?

I don’t hear anyone around the league complaining about the move -- for all the creature comforts of the Coliseum, visiting teams and players don’t love it. And I think that aspect of having a new, state-of-the-art building in a lively area of the city is enticing to a certain type of fan and plenty of people with the organization. 

Brett Yormark and his Barclays Center crew are doing what they can, but the quirks of the new building -- the off-set rink, the hundred or so obstructed-view seats -- are here to stay. It will be a vastly different game experience for everyone, especially the fans. If you as a fan want to be in a new building with a great scoreboard, a great sound system and great food, then this is a plus. If you as a fan want to be able to buy $10 StubHub seats at the last minute and have the same Isles experience you’ve had for 30 years, then maybe this won’t be a good move.

 

This past season was meant to be the driving force for the Islanders to become a constant contender in the NHL after making the playoffs the year before...what happened? Was it the coaches? The players? The management starting at the top with Charles Wang?

The failures of last season started in the summer. Garth Snow felt the team that almost knocked off the Penguins was good enough to compete again with only a few tweaks; his biggest mistake was not signing two goaltenders, or at least one true No. 1. You can see the way he approached the current offseason that he knew it was the biggest error.

And everyone, Snow and the entire coaching staff, overestimated what this group was ready to do. The November/December swoon came from poor team defense and penalty killing, poor goaltending and a real lack of players stepping up and taking control of their situation. Coaching played a role and I think the assistant coach adjustment, bringing in Greg Cronin to coach the D and the PK, was a move towards heading off another swoon.

So, lots of responsibility to go around. We’ll see which of the core players takes it most to heart when the team convenes in September.

 

Speaking of Charles Wang, are there any updates on the potential sale of the Islanders? Is Barroway the only potential buyer Wang has been in discussion with or is there a dark horse bidder?

I don’t think there’s much to update other than what has been reported and what people like Gary Bettman have said. Wang has one concrete offer and he’s deciding what he wants to do. If you recall the Brooklyn move, it was rumored for a while because it was the only logical destination for the team; when the announcement came, it was leaked only hours before.

Right now, there’s only one person who knows what’s going on. And he doesn’t exactly leak much.

 

Moving onto the Islanders off-season plan. It seems like Garth pulled off a miracle in trading for Jaroslav Halak and getting him signed before July 1st

I wouldn’t say it’s a miracle -- despite what some fans feel every time the Isles miss out on a free agent, Snow actually is well-respected around the league. GMs come from all different backgrounds, some with experience, some without. The trend now seems to be former players with better playing resumes than Snow (Sakic, Francis, Linden) but the same level of actual GM experience as when he started.

Anyway, Snow always has a plan. He doesn’t have the same size front office as many other teams to delegate to, but he always has a plan. I don’t think it was an accident he made the deal for Halak’s rights and got him signed.

Sometimes the plan doesn’t work, obviously, as with Dan Boyle. But the Islanders aren’t going to blow average players away with ridiculous offers -- Nikita Nikitin’s 2-year, $9-million deal with the Oilers comes to mind -- so Snow has to be creative. That’s life as an Islander. As long as the team isn’t successful, it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince good players to sign.

 

Do you think Halak would have even entertained the possibility of joining the Islanders if he had hit free agency with the Capitals?

It’s possible, since there aren’t too many teams out there who need No. 1 goaltenders. And a guy like Halak has to know that the elite teams are already set in goal, so he’s going to get offers from less marquee teams. But why leave it to chance with such an important position?

 

Have there been any discussions regarding a new back-up for Halak? Nabokov? Free agent? Prospect?

It sounds like Nabokov wants to see what’s out there -- perhaps a backup job close to his home in California. But I thought he was gone last summer too and look what happened.

There are probably a dozen decent backup candidates out there, so I don’t think that will be an issue. Justin Peters, Devan Dubnyk, Thomas Greiss, Tomas Vokoun, Chad Johnson... There’s plenty of backups available.

 

Snow took a shot on trading for Dan Boyle and it looks like his rights will probably be traded before the draft. Would Snow consider trading his rights for another expiring contract instead of just a pick or both?

Well, I think that ship has sailed with the free-agent contact window opening on the 25th. Snow took a shot with a low-round pick, gave Boyle his pitch and a two-year offer and Boyle said no. Time to move on. The prism of Twitter magnifies every move the Isles make, so seeing this as some sort of referendum on Snow and the Isles is a bit dramatic. They took a shot and missed  and all it cost them was a fifth-round pick they can easily recoup some other time before next June.

 

With the draft coming up, are there any players that the fans should keep an eye out for if they keep the pick?

I think it’ll be between Michael Dal Colle and Leon Draisatl. I don’t see the top three prospects (Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart) slipping through the cracks and the Isles aren’t into reaching for guys at No. 5, as they did with Nino Niederreiter. I believe they like both Dal Colle and Draisatl, so if they don’t find a trade worth making, it’ll be one of those two. But, as a warning, I am almost always wrong in my draft predictions!

 

Do you think they would trade the 5th overall pick? If so, for who? Or would it be a package deal?

Yes, I think they’re looking to deal. Given that just about all of the four teams above them are willing to deal as well, this may be a decision that goes down to the wire -- a team trading into that spot may want to see who’s left at 5 before swinging a deal.

It could be a package deal, I suppose, but I think Snow would have to be blown away by an offer to include any of his top prospects (Ryan Pulock, for instance) or someone off the roster.

 

Would Snow consider moving Josh Bailey or no? If he doesn’t, who does he trade?

I think Snow is fielding offers for Bailey, as he did late in the season. But unless he wants to dump Bailey off for a terrible contract or a minimal draft pick return, there’s no good deal yet.

Of the players who were on the team last season, I’d say Matt Donovan is most likely to be dealt. They have some extra forwards, but they’ll need AHL depth, so I don’t see any current forwards moved.

 

Moving on to July 1st, what can fans expect?

Well, the Isles have been aggressive in contacting free agents. Whether there’s mutual interest is another story. But I can see the Isles reaching out to potential first-line left wings, some veteran centers to guard against Ryan Strome not being ready for the 17-18 minutes a night he’ll need to play as a No. 2 center and to veteran defensemen to add some punch and depth to a young blue line. Plus the backup goalies. It will be busy for the Isles.

 

Would Snow consider bringing back Vanek? 

It would have to be a VERY good price. I think Vanek will get low-ball offers from better teams, so a low-ball offer from the Isles may not be so enticing. One thing about about Snow: Once you turn him down, he’s not too keen on begging to bring you back.

 

What about players like Radim Vrbata, Brooks Orpik, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Callahan, Vernon Fiddler, Michal Handzus or Ales Hemsky?

I’d say Vrbata and Cammalleri fit what they’re looking for. Fiddler may as well, though I don’t think the PK suffered because of the forwards. Callahan is signedin Tampa (sorry I waited so long to answer these!), Handzus is probably too slow now to play with this team and Hemsky is intriguing but perhaps not the best fit with Tavares and Okposo. Orpik isn’t a target -- too expensive for what he offers.

 

Would the Islanders go after a player like Volchenkov if he bought out?

I don’t see him being bought out, but again, I don’t think he fits the Isles’ desire to play with speed.

 

Going into next year, how short is the leash on Jack Capuano?

Well, another November dive and he could certainly be in trouble. But I got the feeling that Snow put the blame on himself for not providing enough depth to withstand injuries and general failures in certain areas. Snow and Capuano are very much on the same page, so I think that makes his leash longer than most would think after such a dismal season.

 

Any predictions for next year?

I don’t see them being worse, but I also see an improved division -- Carolina will be sharper with a new coaching staff, Columbus is trying hard to upgrade and the Caps and Devils will never be totally out of it. The Islanders won’t just have to correct last year’s mistakes, they’ll have to be significantly better and more consistent. I see an improved team with maybe 92-94 points. Is that enough for the playoffs? To be determined...