The free agency period begins tomorrow, and GM Garth Snow has already declared that the Islanders will not be a major player on July 1 but will only "kick the tires" on a few possibilities. Then again, Snow made it look like he was ready to adopt Nikita Filatov, he loved him so much, and we know what happened there. So maybe Garth is playing poker again.
In any case, none of the Isles' unrestricted free agents are returning, and according to NHLnumbers.com, with the Bates buyout the Isles' cap number so far is under $32 million, and that includes the Yashin cap hit. With a new salary floor of $40.7 million and a cap of $56.7 million, there's money to be spent. Figuring in the six players who have been extended qualifying offers and possible arbitration, you're looking at a payroll of around $36 million.
I'm not going to try and predict who the Islanders will end up signing -- other than to say that Jagr, Hossa and Sakic won't be headed to Hempstead. But here's what they COULD do...
Brooks Orpik, 27, would give the Isles some added muscle on the back line. I keep hearing that the Isles are looking for a puck-moving defenseman, but throwing Orpik back there with Witt and Martinek can only make Rick DiPietro smile.
Kristian Huselius, 29, went 25-41-66 for the Flames last season and was rumored to be on Snow's trade radar. Now it will only cost them more of Charles Wang's money, and Huselius would be a first-line left winger.
Brendan Morrison, 31, is a veteran center coming off some recent injuries who won't cost much more than the $3.2 million he made last season with the Canucks. Morrison and Huselius would address the Isles' biggest needs at center and left wing.
Figure that trio would add about $12 million to the annual payroll, bumping it to $48 million, right in between the floor and the ceiling. As a fan, I hope that's not a pipe dream.
Ted Nolan is in the final year of his contract. The Isles missed the playoffs and the fans -- who are being sold on the Lighthouse Project -- can't be expected to wait until then to get excited about this team. If the Islanders want fans in the seats, if they want free agents to want to come here, they need to change the culture to a winning culture, and Nolan is a huge part of that. Spend more and you will make more. Sure, Wang will still lose money in the end, but he'll make that up in spades when (if) the Lighthouse is finally built.
Eight million above the floor isn't too uch to ask. Then again, I don't sign the checks.
Starting tomorrow, we'll know which way the team is headed.