The New York Islanders recently announced their move from the decrepit Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale to the shiny new Barclays Center in Brooklyn by 2015, successfully bumping the NHL lockout from the hockey headlines for a couple of days.
While the move will promising impact on the Islanders’ future, it remains to be seen what kind of club they will be this season, let alone when they move to Brooklyn in three years time.
It’s been more than five years since the Islanders last made the playoffs, rebuilding since then with affordable talent via the draft, trades, waivers and free agency.
Several of those moves (center John Tavares, wingers Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner, defenseman Mark Streit) were successful, but the Islanders remain in perpetual rebuilding mode, with little to show for their efforts.
GM Garth Snow moved quickly over the summer to bolster his roster, signing right winger Brad Boyes to replace the departed P-A Parenteau and acquiring veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky via trade from the Anaheim Ducks.
Boyes’ numbers, however, have been in decline since his career-best 72 points in 2008-09, while the 36-year-old Visnovsky’s stats dropped sharply last season from his career-high 68-point effort in 2010-11.
That being said, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t keen to join the Islanders when the club plucked him off waivers late in the 2010-11 season, yet reported to the club last season and played well, re-signing a one-year contract last March.
If Nabokov could be won over, perhaps Visnovsky will be, too.
Indeed, a number of key players – Tavares, Moulson, Grabner, center Frans Nielsen and right winger Kyle Okposo – bought into the rebuilding process and re-signed new contracts.
Still, this remains a team with significant problem areas on its roster. It lacks a proven second-line center, an experienced shutdown defenseman and reliable backup goaltending.
Nielsen is slated for the role of second-line center, but on a deeper club he’d be skating on the third line. Blueliner Travis Hamonic, 22, has shown promise, but he’s entering only his third NHL season.
Some observers consider 18-year-old defense prospect Griffin Reinhart the most NHL-ready of the 2012 draft class, but he’s not yet ready for the role of shutdown defenseman.
Snow was reportedly among several GMs to express interest in veteran blueliner Bryce Salvador prior to his re-signing with the New Jersey Devils. As the season progresses, he could revisit efforts to land a useful stay-at-home defenseman.
Injury-ravaged netminder Rick DiPietro cannot be counted on to even provide reliable backup goaltending, while Kevin Poulin has yet to prove he’s ready to step into that role. Don’t rule out the possibility of Snow shopping for another backup if DiPietro and Poulin struggle again.
With just over $50.2 million invested in 22 players this season, the Islanders currently have the second-lowest payroll in the league.
Snow has plenty of cap space to add more talent, but the expectation is the current Islanders roster is what will hit the ice if this season isn’t lost to lockout.
His low payroll and cap space will prove useful later in the season if the Islanders need to bolster their lineup, especially if the club exceeds expectations and is in position for a playoff berth by the trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.