Picking up where we left off on Tuesday, here’s the second part of our look at the Islanders forwards — where they were this season and where they might be headed.
With advanced metrics from Hockey Analysis and contract info from General Fanager:
— Anders Lee was just starting to shake off a pretty lousy season when Johnny Boychuk’s slapper broke Lee’s leg on April 7, ending the big forward’s season.
Despite only scoring seven even-strength goals this season, Lee was an above-average possession player and, perhaps more importantly, made just about every forward he played with better than when they were without him.
It’s why Capuano refused to cut Lee’s minutes or bench him entirely during his prolonged slump — the coach referred to Lee’s consistency and willingness to battle, a couple of Capuano’s favorite phrases, and the numbers bore that out.
About the only knock aside from bad luck — Lee posted an 8.2 shooting percentage on 183 shots, worse than every regular forward except Strome — was perhaps he took too many penalties (18 minors, third on the team). Small matter though. He’s a core forward.
— Josh Bailey had a down year. But he had become a reliable possession player the past two seasons and had been, in his first two postseasons, a solid producer.
Neither of those things happened enough this season, despite his two-goal outburst in Game 3 against the Lightning. Bailey will likely never be a 50-point guy, but he does do a lot of good things.
He has two more years at a $3.3 million annual average value. Snow could definitely try to package Bailey in a move to upgrade the forwards, but if he doesn’t, there’s still a spot for him on this team. Bailey was quite good with Nielsen and Lee this season. Depending on how things shake out, that would be quite a solid third line going forward.
— Nikolay Kulemin didn’t want to say what was bothering him physically when the team finished up last week, but it was clear something was wrong with him, especially during the playoff run.
Aside from his work with the high-ranked penalty kill — and that was no small achievement this season — Kulemin’s 2015-16 wasn’t great. He had the worst possession numbers of any Isles forward and everyone was better without Kulemin than with him.
It was a steep drop from his first Islanders season, so it’s fair to wonder if Kulemin was nursing an injury just about all the way through 2015-16. The fact that he did not head off to St. Petersburg to play for Russia in the World Championships last week shows how injured he was and perhaps after a summer of rest, he can get back to being the effective (if not overly productive) player he was in 2014-15.
— Kulemin’s close friend Mikhail Grabovski is in a tough spot. Grabovski was again limited by concussions, this time to 58 games and none in the playoffs. Last season he played 51 games and three in the postseason.
It’s hard to know what the Islanders can do with Grabovski, who still showed flashes of his skill in a little more than half a season. If Grabovski is still bothered by concussion symptoms, they can’t buy him out. Healthy or injured, he’s got zero trade value.
And at 32, it’s hard to see this sad pattern righting itself. Two more seasons at $5 million AAV clouds the situation as well, given what the Islanders are trying to do with their unrestricted free agents.
— Matt Martin’s pending UFA status would have seemed like a faraway dream last summer, when Martin would joke with Snow that they needed to grab lunch and hammer out an extension.
But after leading the league in hits for a fifth straight year and posting 10 goals, Martin seems to understand that his time with the Isles could be drawing to a close.
“I love being an Islander,” he said last week. “I understand it’s a business too. We’ll see what happens.”
This is one situation that could change in a moment’s notice. If Snow decides he can afford to give Martin a three- or four-year deal in the $2.5 million AAV range, then that would settle things.
If Martin decides he’d accept three years at $2 million AAV or so, that would settle things as well. But he’s only 27 and the list of teams that would covet a player and person like Martin is lengthy, particularly in the Eastern Conference.
— Casey Cizikas is a below-the-radar player for the Islanders and in this busy summer. He’s a restricted free agent making only $1 million per; he had his best year production-wise even though he was a little off on the possession numbers from a season ago and he’s still only 24.
In short, Cizikas is due for a decent raise and will surely be the fourth-line center when camp opens. Whether he has his usual linemates remains to be seen.
— Cal Clutterbuck had, like Cizikas, a productive season, scoring several key goals and contributing a great deal to the successful penalty kill. His possession numbers were a little below average, but still pretty good with Cizikas and Martin.
Clutterbuck has one more year at $2.75 million AAV. He’ll be back to fill his valuable role and, as with Martin, the Isles will see where they are after next season before deciding what to do with Clutterbuck.
— Shane Prince came over from the Senators at the trade deadline and his regular season work for the Isles looked about the same as his work for the Sens — low production, not great possession metrics.
But the 23-year-old played pretty well in the postseason, scoring three goals in 11 games (he had three in 20 regular-season games with the Isles). Well enough for sure that, after signing what will surely be a one-year qualifying offer, Prince could be vying for a role with the Isles next season.
— Steve Bernier likely didn’t expect to be a healthy scratch for 58 games this season after he signed a one-year deal on the eve of training camp, but he did get an opportunity in the playoffs that wasn’t a success.
Bernier is only 31 and still only two years removed from a 16-goal season with the Devils. He’ll find another gig next fall, but not with the Isles. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lou Lamoriello take a crack at adding him to the Leafs’ depth chart prior to camp.
— Who would have thought we’d have Alan Quine in this list? He qualifies after opening some eyes in the playoffs, where he finished tied for fourth in scoring with five points and had, outside of John Tavares’ series-winner, the biggest goal of the playoffs with his Game 5 double-OT winner.
Quine is an RFA who’ll be back on the cheap and could make some higher-paid veteran forwards obsolete if he plays as hard and as well as he did in the postseason.
— Eric Boulton served more in an advisory role this season, his 15th in the NHL. He’ll be 40 in August but he’s probably in better shape than most of the 19-year-old prospects in the Isles system.
He told me last week he hasn’t made any decisions yet on whether he’s going to play in 2016-17, but one thing seems clear: He’ll still be around the Islanders. I’ve heard about everything from player development to a possible role like the one Matt Carkner filled in Bridgeport as a player/coach to possible television work for Boulton, who has embraced Long Island after arriving four years ago.