NHL Free Agency 2011 Preview: What Will The Islanders Do?

Islanders Important Unrestricted Free Agents: Radek Martinek, Jack Hillen (not qualified), Zenon Konopka

Restricted Free Agents (all received Qualifying Offers): Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, Ty Wishart, Jesse Joensuu, Dylan Reese, Micheal Haley

Looking at the depth charts at forward and defense, the New York Islanders ostensibly don't have much work to do on July 1 when the 2011 NHL free agency period begins. They have enough NHL contracts for a full blueline, and enough forwards competing for top 9 jobs that the only glaring hole is a defensive faceoff specialist to replace Zenon Konopka, who will not be re-signed.

That said, they could handle upgrades at any position outside of goaltender, where they could use an upgrade but there is already a crowd of contracts and prospects.

DEFENSE

Garth Snow's attempt to preemptively sign Christian Ehrhoff shows he recognizes the blueline needs more depth, and ideally an offensive upgrade. The Islanders have seven returning NHL blueliners (if you count either Ty Wishart or Mark Katic as likely NHLers) plus several prospects headed to Bridgeport who might push for NHL time, led by Calvin de Haan. However, there are several injury caveats: Mark Eaton, Andrew MacDonald and Mike Mottau are all returning from hip surgery. Mark Streit is returning from serious shoulder surgery that wiped out his entire 2010-11. That's a lot of "ifs" with which to start the season.

While the Islanders are unlikely to target James Wisniewski or Tomas Kaberle, they should kick the tires on New Jersey's Andy Greene, or even Calgary's Anton Babchuk if they're interested in an Ehrhoff-lite, offensive-oriented defenseman. Failing these, they could also try to bring back Jack Hillen or Radek Martinek, who were both allowed to reach July 1 unsigned.

FORWARD

The Islanders' offense went a little under the radar last year, ranking 15th of the year and featuring two 30-goal scorers and five 20-goal scorers in all. Any deficiencies are due more to the merry-go-round of defensemen who had varying success feeding the forwards.

So the top six and even top nine forwards are set, for better or worse, marked by several young NHLers. But they need a bottom six upgrade. The decision to let Konopka walks makes sense only if they acquire a better version. Konopka is great at faceoffs and great at rallying the troops, but his three-zone play isn't great and suffers when hampered by weak fourth-line wingers. Micheal Haley might default into that role, but they should let him develop at wing and try an experienced defensive pivot like Phoenix's Eric Belanger, Nashville's Marcel Goc, or even Los Angeles' Michal Handzus.

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