Andy Greene

NHL free agent defensemen Dustin Byfuglien Andy Greene
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Byfuglien and other veteran NHL free agent defensemen with unclear futures

After covering forwards and goalies, let’s close things out with a look at fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen.

Before we start, note that this isn’t about top defensemen available. Alex Pietrangelo likely only stands on the fringe between a huge contract or just a very big contract. Also, the sheer glut of defensemen means a lot of borderline players will either be off this list, or merely mentioned in passing.

A lot of stuff to consider with Buff

Going to an earlier post, health questions limit Corey Crawford‘s earning potential. Those issues loom even larger for very large defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

After missing the 2019-20 season, it’s unclear how close Byfuglien can be to full-strength. Most of all, Byfuglien must decide if he even wants to come back. And at what cost.

Being that Byfuglien turned 35 on March 27, he’d need a 35+ contract. That could be a Byfuglien-sized sticking point if the defenseman wants term in any deal.

All of that aside, even a compromised version of Byfuglien towers over many of the fringe options.

Other reasonably prominent fringe NHL free agent defensemen

Let’s go over a few of them, while Cap Friendly features a more expansive list that drives home the glut.

  • Mike Green — There were times when it felt like criticisms were way, way too harsh for Green. (Maybe it was fury at the fauxhawk?) The temperature’s changed in 2020, though. Most of the people who bashed Green have moved on to (insert latest offensive defenseman who might win a Norris). But there are just enough teams with nostalgia for Green that he might get a chance in his reduced, 34-year-old form. Consider the Oilers trading an actual draft pick for Green during the past deadline if you need evidence.

While Green’s defensive game slips with age, he also doesn’t provide that zip on offense, either.

It’s sadly not too surprising to see Green — and some other fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen — at the bottom of the ranks of this GAR chart from Evolving Hockey:

worst GAR NHL free agent defensemen Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey
  • While Green’s fellow 34-year-old defenseman Roman Polak plays a different style, he also finds himself in the dregs of that list. It’s even more common for some NHL GM to talk themselves into a hard-nosed Polak than it is for them to believe Green could rekindle his scoring touch, too. Both ideas seem ill-advised, although if you need to appease an old-school coach, maybe you throw them a bone by giving Polak a very cheap contract (that you can bury or get rid of)?
  • It was tough not to chuckle when the Islanders spent a second-round pick to acquire Andy Greene.

That’s not really a knock against Greene, generally speaking. He has some value as a defense-first defensemen. Instead, it’s just that the Islanders felt the need merely to add more of the same.

This isolated impact chart from Hockey Viz reinforces those points well enough:

Andy Greene iso NHL free agent defensemen
via Hockey Viz

Regardless, if the Islanders are willing to spend a prominent pick on Greene, the 37-year-old will probably draw some attention. By the muted expectations of this quantity-over-quality group, you could do worse … if you don’t pledge much money or especially term.

(There’s an argument that Greene is viable enough not to be fringe. Still, his advanced age makes it seem reasonable to list him.)

  • If your team must have someone like Polak, how about Justin Braun? The 33-year-old doesn’t bring offensive value, but he’s more useful defensively.
  • My guess is that there will be at least some market for Ron Hainsey. At 39, it’s fair to wonder how much Hainsey has left in the tank. That’s also a fair question for most of the veteran NHL free agent defensemen we’re discussing.

Veteran free agent NHL defensemen lightning round

  • I usually cut these lists off at 30+, but Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian are two 29-year-old defensemen who’ve garnered more attention than I’d usually expect. Maybe they will again? Teams can get pretty desperate for defense.
  • I haven’t mentioned Kevin Shattenkirk until now because I feel like anyone who observed his work in 2019-20 would give him a low-risk contract. But just in case, the 31-year-old would be a standout if he’s “fringe” material.
  • There are plenty of defensemen who might retire as much for health reasons as a lack of interest. Factor in age, too, and you could mark that box for defensemen including Jonathan Ericsson, Jay Bouwmeester, Deryk Engelland, and maybe Andrej Sekera.
  • Again, there are quite a few middling options who may ride meager name recognition. Teams have regularly inflated the value of 33-year-old Michael Stone, for instance.
  • Are Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber still NHL defensemen? GMs will decide that too.

(In case you’re wondering, Zdeno Chara‘s calling his own shot, and expected to be back. So that’s why he didn’t get a mention only now.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New York Islanders.

Islanders carry over surprises from 2018-19 for a hot start

To be honest, I expected the Islanders to be scrappy this season, but to narrowly miss the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through late November, that prediction looked as inaccurate as those who expected the Islanders to dwell in the cellar after John Tavares left during the summer of 2018.

Even factoring in Barry Trotz’s outstanding defensive acumen, it’s simply asking a lot for goalies to match what Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner pulled off in 2018-19. Yet, the Islanders combined more great goaltending (this time from Greiss and Semyon Varlamov) and timely scoring to start 2019-20 as one of the NHL’s hottest surprises.

It’s telling that the Islanders briefly topped PHT’s Power Rankings with their 16-3-1 record as of Nov. 21.

By compiling a franchise-record 16-game point streak, one wondered how high the Islanders might soar.

Betting on Varlamov (.920 save percentage through Dec. 31) over Lehner looked better than some figured. Meanwhile, Greiss continued his Trotz-era Renaissance (.919 save percentage during the same frame). The Islanders seemed poised to show that their way worked, and to an elite degree.

Islanders stumble as time goes on

However, you could argue that the Islanders couldn’t always walk what often felt like an all-defense tightrope. That high-wire act began to unravel, particularly from mid-January and on.

You can see that slippage in the big, shining neon light that was a seven-game losing streak entering the pause. But, really, the Islanders’ slide extended back a couple of months. If you want to hammer home disappointments for Islanders fans, you can’t get much more dramatic than “opening the door for the Rangers.”

That’s all disappointing, especially since the Islanders made some fairly aggressive trades (for Andy Greene and J.G. Pageau) to improve and patch up injuries. Your level of surprise likely revolves around how sustainable you thought the Islanders’ successes really were.

Looking at certain stats, it’s clear the luck swung violently the other way.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders tied with those hated Rangers for the fourth-highest PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent proxy for luck) of 102 through Dec. 31. Looking at 2020 alone, the Islanders ranked sixth-lowest with a 98.5 mark.

A higher-scoring team might have been able to weather slippage from Varlamov (.908 save percentage since Jan. 1) and Greiss (.901 during that span), but the Islanders struggled.

Surprises and disappointments for Islanders on offense

Modest offense from the Islanders shouldn’t rank among surprises, but the team not finding ways to inject more offense could be seen as one of their disappointments.

Considering how stringent the Islanders’ system is, Mathew Barzal leading the team with 60 points is understandable. It feels a bit wrong for a player that talented, but a lot is being asked of Barzal and a few others.

That said, the Islanders made things work — enough — thanks to nice scoring by committee.

Beyond some continued strong play from Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, the Islanders also made a smart, low-risk gamble on Derick Brassard. The oft-traded forward ranked eighth in team scoring with 32 points. That’s pretty nifty stuff from a $1.2 million investment.

The Islanders have to hope that they see solid growth in Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom like they did in Anthony Beauvillier this season.

Overall, I’d say that the pleasant surprises outweighed the disappointments for the Islanders in 2019-20. Of course, we’ll have to see if play resumes to learn what other twists and turns were coming.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the 2019-20 New York Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

2019-20 New York Islanders

Record: 35-23-10 (80 points in 68 games), positioned sixth in the Metro and ninth in the East. Islanders would rank ahead of Blue Jackets by points percentage (and thus be in the postseason by that metric).
Leading Scorer: Mathew Barzal – 60 points (19 goals and 41 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

The Islanders may very well have been the coldest (relevant) team in the NHL before the pause.

Most obviously, the Islanders found themselves mired in a seven-game losing streak, the worst “active” slump in the league. While the Isles managed to squeeze four points from that skid (0-3-4), that’s still troubling.

When you zoom out, their struggles stretch back further. The Islanders managed only two wins since Feb. 13 (2-7-4), and just six victories since Jan. 11 (6-11-7). Such struggles opened the door for the Rangers and other usurpers to push the Islanders out of the playoffs entirely.

It was quite the fall for an Islanders team that was flirting with at least a round of home-ice advantage during hotter stretches of 2019-20.

But one also cannot deny that the Islanders deserve credit for that hotter stretch. Barry Trotz’s system combines with strong goaltending from Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov to form a team that’s tough to score against.

While the Islanders were slipping quite a bit, and facing a road-heavy stretch that would have seen them play eight of their would-be next 11 games on the road, they also were in position to return to the postseason. Technically, the Blue Jackets (81 points in 70 games) rank ahead of the Islanders, but only by a point, while the Isles hold two games in hand.

Will the Islanders get to prove they can right the ship? Can they justify spending around the trade deadline on J.G. Pageau and Andy Greene?

We may never find out those answers, yet Trotz cemented once again that his defensive schemes can keep his teams competitive. After all, few teams would be too troubled if you told them they’d have a 35-23-10 record through 68 games.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Islanders

Islanders fans savor opportunities to roast people who’ve predicted that their team would flop. With that in mind, the earlier parts of 2019-20 served up a decadent buffet.

After a brief stumble out of the gate, the Islanders rattled off a 10-game winning streak from Oct. 12 – Nov. 5.

The Islanders avenged the Penguins ending their 10-game winning streak by beating Pittsburgh twice to extend their point streak to a franchise-record 16 games. The Islanders rumbled to an impressive 16-3-1 record, ascending to the top spot in PHT’s Power Rankings for late November.

If you want an individual highlight, credit Pageau with scoring a goal and getting in a fight to celebrate his Islanders debut. Watch the scrap below:

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils selling with the NHL trade deadline approaching

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NEWARK, N.J. — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.

With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.

“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”

Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.

The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.

Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.

Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.

The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.

Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.

New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.

The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.

Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.

“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”

If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.

The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.

Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.

“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.

New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.

“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker