A few tidbits from the last week of chatting with Islanders veterans and newcomers as we get ready for training camp to begin on Thursday with player physicals:
Travis Hamonic said his injured left knee caused him no problems this offseason in his workouts, either on or off the ice. He looks a little leaner than he usually does coming into camp, though he said he didn't change anything.
Where lots of Isles players are using last season's Game 7 loss to the Caps as motivation heading into this year, Hamonic is using his absence from the entire playoff series as his motivation.
"I was supposed to start skating the next day (after Game 7), so yeah, it still sucks," he said. "You have to try and move past it and get ready for a new year, which I know I am. But when you think about it, yeah, it's still lousy."
Michael Grabner has been back on the Island for a couple weeks following a full year he'd like to forget. He needed hernia surgery in October that took away the second half of his training camp and the first half of the season, then he had trouble sticking in a lineup that had success without him.
He needed another hernia surgery in May but pronounced himself fit as camp approaches -- a camp he might not have thought he'd be attending, with the Isles trying to hard to unload the 27-year-old most of the summer.
"A fresh start, I guess," he said. "Trying to get healthy, get stuff back working. I had a lot of time in the summer, I think I used it properly."
Grabner has one year left on a five-year, $15-million contract, and his actual salary is $5 million this year, a big impediment to any potential trade. So here he is, back for a sixth season and trying to prove himself all over again.
"I know how I can play," he said. "Can't worry about anything else."
Another forward on the bubble as camp begins is Steve Bernier, the 30-year-old wing who is in camp on a tryout after spending the last four seasons with the Devils. He scored a career-high 16 goals last season, which he thought would assure him a job this year, but the market for mid-range veterans was nonexistent this summer.
"I thought for sure I was going to re-sign with New Jersey," Bernier said. "That was a disappointment, for sure. And after that on July 1, I thought I was going to get a call right away. It's tough mentally to wait all summer and you just don't know what's going to happen. After that, the next step is to look around and find a team that plays the same style you play, hope you can get a tryout to prove what you're capable of."
The Islanders are bringing in Bernier likely as a safety net in case Brock Nelson doesn't sign, though Bernier fits more as a third-line wing than in Nelson's direct spot. But Bernier did have four power-play goals last season, so he could fill a net-front role.
Even if Nelson signs, Bernier could be a good depth forward option. He noted that he started last season in the AHL, got called up after a month and ended up with the best scoring season of his 10-year NHL career in just 67 games.
"I know there's not many openings and they had a good run last year," he said. "The last thing I want to do is get in and destroy everything they've been doing. I just want to fit in, even if there's not a spot right away."
Nothing new as of early Tuesday afternoon on Brock Nelson, though Garth Snow and Ron Salcer, Nelson's agent, may speak at some point Tuesday. At least then we can reset the "When was the last time they talked?" counter.
The four players Salcer named as comparables -- Mikael Granlund (two years, $6 million from the Wild), Alex Galchenyuk (two years, $5.6 million from the Canadiens), Mika Zibanejad (two years, $5.25 million from the Senators) and Elias Lindholm (two years, $5.4 million from the Hurricanes, with a year left on his entry-level deal) -- all got significant raises from their entry-level deals without arbitration rights.
Salcer's point is that those teams identified those guys as core players and chose to pay them as such, even without needing to do so. Snow's point, through his steadfast refusal to negotiate, is that even though the Isles view Nelson as a core player, why should they throw their salary structure out of whack without needing to?
Both sides have legitimate points, but as the CBA stands, the Islanders have all the leverage here. Nelson's best course of action was likely to take his qualifying offer of around $850,000, produce another strong season and reap the rewards next summer. That's what Anders Lee did.
But Nelson chose to forego that QO, so now his deal could look even worse. Snow may not budge off a two-year deal worth maybe $2.5 million total. It may not seem fair, compared to what similar players are getting, but this isn't about fairness.