With the NHL season fast approaching and teams still tinkering with their rosters to put a winning team together the Islanders decided to do most of their shopping either before or after free agency started and for the first time in years it appears it might pay off…at least on paper.
I recently sat down with nhl.com’s Brian Compton about what to expect from the Islanders this year as they commemorate their final season at the Coliseum.
With the Islanders moving after this year what will it be like for you to leave the Coliseum both on a personal and professional level?
It's going to be very strange. I basically grew up in that building and saw my first game there. I have a lot of great memories with my father, uncle and brother at the Coliseum, special memories that I'll never forget. This season is going to be tough simply because you know it's the last one, and you know it's going to go by fast. The Coliseum is a great place to cover a game because it has arguably the best sight lines in the NHL.
What would you like to see the Islanders do to commemorate the final season before moving to Brooklyn?
Win. Obviously, there will be some pre-game ceremonies during the season, and that will be nice. But the best way to pay tribute to that building is to give the fans one last hurrah. The Islanders are probably not going to win the Stanley Cup, but it would be nice to go out in style and have a nice playoff run.
Are there any plans to honor players from the past?
I honestly don't know. I'm sure we'll know more in the coming weeks.
We saw Garth Snow go out and be aggressive in the trade market and free agency for the first time in years. How do you envision these moves panning out?
On paper, this is the deepest team they've had in a while. The goaltending should be much better with the additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson, and they're much deeper down the middle with the signing of Mikhail Grabovski. I'd like to see them add another defenseman before the season starts, but this team should be very competitive.
Speaking of players Snow acquired, Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson have to be two of the best goaltending tandem signings in the last decade. What is your view point?
It shores up what was easily the biggest hole for the Islanders last season. They lost 13 times in games where they were ahead by two goals, so one would think the goaltending should clean some of that up. This will be a good test for Johnson, who no longer has Zdeno Chara playing 25 minutes a game in front of him.
Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin were tremendous pickups on July 2nd. How does their talent translate into success on the Island?
The two most important things about Grabovski are that he wins faceoffs, which is huge for the Islanders, and that his addition allows Frans Nielsen to become the third-line center, where I think he's best suited. Kulemin and Grabovski had great chemistry together in Toronto, so I'm sure the hope is that they can rekindle that with the Islanders. Time will tell.
Adding Grabovski gives the Islanders a dynamic core of centers for the foreseeable future. How does that affect a player like Brock Nelson?
I think Nelson starts the season as the left wing on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Jack Capuano told me he's hesitant to move Nelson away from the middle, but he knows how dangerous he could be with John and Kyle. This could be a big year for Brock.
We all know Nelson has untapped talent and will only get better as he gets older, but is it the right move to situate him on the first line alongside Tavares and Okposo?
It is, simply because there isn't room for him at center right now. You want to get the most out of Brock as you possibly can, and the best place for him right now is with John and Kyle.
Where do players like Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner fit into the line-up with some of the kids coming up?
I think Garth is willing to move Josh, but he is not simply going to just give him away. Josh is very solid defensively and simply needs to become a more consistent offensive player. Grabner is another one who I think could be moved at the right price, but he's dangerous simply because of his speed.
Speaking of young kids coming up and getting a shot, Anders Lee should be ticketed for the third line, right?
He's going to have to earn it. There are veteran players with decent-sized contracts vying for spots, so I don't think we can assume anything with Anders. He has a lot of potential and needs to continue working hard on becoming a solid two-way player.
After getting a taste of the NHL Ryan Strome is likely ticketed for the Island. Is there under any circumstance that he doesn’t make the team out of camp?
Ryan is another guy who needs to have a solid camp, and I think he will. If everything goes well, I would think he plays the other wing on the second line with Grabovski and Kulemin. Ryan knows he can't take anything for granted, so we'll see what happens.
Moving on to the defense- is that still a work in progress or can Islander fans expect another move? Or is Snow going with what he has?
I think he'd like to add another defenseman if he can before the season begins. Griffin Reinhart is expected to make the team too, so no matter what the blue line will have a different look this season. It's important that Calvin de Haan continues to emerge too. A setback could be disastrous for the Isles' playoff chances.
What is the status of Lubomir Visnovsky? Can he be relied on for an entire season?
To my knowledge, Lubomir is healthy and ready to go. The injury history is going to be a concern, but there are plenty of teams in the same boat. His veteran presence on this blue line is very important, so hopefully he stays healthy.
Griffin Reinhart doesn’t make the team by __________?
Having a lousy camp. Otherwise, he's here.
Heading into training camp are there any players to watch for potential camp invites?
Don't think so. I guess it's always possible Radek Martinek skates with them in September, but I wouldn't expect much else.
Are there any rookies to keep an eye on during training camp?
Just the usual names. Ryan Pulock will obviously get a good look in camp, but I would expect him to play in Bridgeport this season.
Lastly, any predictions for the season?
Not yet. Maybe right before the season begins. Something could happen before then that would adjust the roster. Let's wait and see.