Letting free agency soak in a little gives me a little more perspective on the type of general manager Garth Snow is. He always has had a plan and he has stuck to it. What I realized after some of these signings was that not only is Garth going to let his young prospects marinate in the minors, he's going to make them earn their spots. Don't get me wrong, I like the moves made so far as I will discuss each one, but at some time these kids are going to have to show they belong in the NHL. Maybe winning a playoff round or two in the AHL may help with that. Either way this organization is full of talent and ready to roll. Let's go over the signings starting with goaltending:
Evgeni Nabokov: Signed a one year deal. Well it's not an upgrade as my wish was Hiller from Anaheim, but Nabokov isn't a downgrade to say the least. For the regular season, with an improved team in front of him, you should expect the same regular season performance that fans saw this year. I think with a normal schedule, you may see his numbers actually improve. For now, he's good for the regular season, it's the next goaltender that has fans worried.
Kevin Poulin: Signed to a one year two-way contract. This was interesting because it's a two-way contract but Snow is insisting on having some competition in camp this coming year. For now, unless a goaltender is picked up somewhere, look for Poulin and Anders Nilsson to compete for the back up role behind Nabokov. Many have been a little harsh on Poulin, but it's difficult to look at numbers from the AHL as Bridgeport has not been great during his tenure there. He did take them to a division title, along with Nilsson but Poulin did have a winning record last year on a team that lost players to the NHL and injuries. Let him show his talents at camp and if he earns it, that should be good enough for fans to start the season. But I would expect him to get 20+ starts for the Islanders next year.
Now the only defenseman signed so far is Travis Hamonic: Signed a seven year deal. Well fans, add him to the core and it was a good decision. Many believe he's a number two even at a young age for a defenseman and with this signing will only solidify a defense that is sure to improve for years to come.
Now my original thought was that players like Brock Nelson will get a shot at the Islanders this year, but I may have been wrong. Unless he has a complete All-Star camp, he could play along side Ryan Strome in Bridgeport, and that's not a bad thing either. Here's three players on why he may start in the minors.
Peter Regin: Signed a one year deal. When I asked a few Ottawa fans what they thought of Regin, they all said Frans Neilsen who needs to shoot more and stay healthy. They didn't miss him much because he just wasn't around. Clearly this is just a "Prove it" year for Regin and to give Nelson a little more time in the minors and to say to him "You have to earn your spot." If Regin can develop a chemistry on this team and puts up decent numbers (10+ goals) and play healthy, then this was a good signing by Snow.
Cal Clutterbuck: Signed a four year deal. Recently acquired Clutterbuck appears to be apart of this core team after the signing. If he can keep a disciplined game, this Islanders team may have the best bottom six in the Eastern Conference. He can score, certainly hit and has a good defensive game. Most important, it addressed a need to bulk up when playing against teams like Pittsburgh or Boston in the playoffs.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard: Not gonna lie folks, when asked who I wanted from the free agency I was hoping for Danny Heately, when he was bought out in August. Also with Nino Niederreitter being traded to Minnesota, my thought was they don't need Heately for that kind of money. As it turns out his shoulder may not be ready to go by the time the season starts. Right team, wrong player. I had to ask around and I was told by Minnesota fans the same thing about Bouchard as I was with Regin: needs to stay healthy. It should be noted he did have a healthy season, and that Bouchard is ready to go now. Fans basically said that if the Islanders place Bouchard with Tavares, watch for some magic to happen. I asked them if they wanted Bouchard or Brad Boyes, they said Bouchard. So there you go. Should be an upgrade.
Well, there is still some time left in free agency for things to happen. But after watching Snow work, he's determined to let the prospects earn there way onto the team, which is what this free agency has demonstrated. Whether some of these free agents pan out is irrelevant, it's the simple message that Snow has given to the younger players: Earn Your Keep.