On sportsnet.ca, insider Elliotte Friedman has a column named “30 Thoughts” where he often gives his highly-educated opinion and discusses rumors he has heard from very reliable sources. Before his latest column today, his last column posted on April 25th discussed Islanders-related news regarding Tavares and the team’s arena situation. Today “30 Thoughts” is back and mentions the Islanders a few times with some pretty interesting rumors and opinions.
The Islanders fired head coach Jack Capuano on January 17th and replaced him with interim head coach Doug Weight. Weight led the team to a 24-12-4 record, finishing one point shy of the playoffs after they had been at the bottom of the standings for the majority of the season. On April 12th, the Islanders removed the “interim” tag off Weight and made him the official head coach. According to Freidman and Newsday’s Arthur Staple, it looks like there will be more changes behind the Islanders’ bench. Last Thursday, Staple had tweeted that while not official, he believes that assistant coach Bob Corkum won’t be back and that Luke Richardson will be joining the coaching staff. Richardson spent three years as an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators before becoming head coach of their at-the-time AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. This past season, after leaving the Senators’ organization, Richardson spent some time coaching at the international level. In addition, Richardson played 21 seasons in the NHL, appearing in 1,417 regular-season games and 69 playoff games. Friedman added to this report, saying that he has heard that Kelly Buchberger will join Weight as well. Buchberger played with Weight for a handful of seasons in Edmonton and were recently spotted watching Islanders’ prospect Mathew Barzal together during game three of the WHL Finals. Kind of off-topic but Barzal had one assist in that game, a 3-2 loss; although his team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, won the series and their first WHL Championship in team history. Barzal had 25 points (seven goals and 18 assists) through his team’s 16 playoff games, good for sixth overall throughout the WHL Playoffs. Barzal and the Thunderbirds will now compete for the Memorial Cup. Anyways, back to Buchberger. Buchberger has had several coaching-related jobs in the Edmonton Oilers’ organization since retirement from playing that have included stints in the AHL and NHL. As a player, Buchberger has appeared in 1,182 regular-season games and 97 playoff games, winning the Stanley Cup twice. However, none of these coaching changes have been made official.
Calvin de Haan and the Expansion Draft:
A fun fact about potential coaching staff addition Kelly Buchberger is that after playing parts of 12 seasons with the Oilers, he was chosen by the Atlanta Trashers in their 1999 Expansion Draft. For the first time since 2000, the NHL will be expanding, this time to Las Vegas where the Vegas Golden Knights will play this upcoming season. Current NHL teams have a choice of protecting either eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie from Vegas. In many mock Expansion Drafts, 26 year old defenseman Calvin de Haan is who analysts see the Islanders losing. de Haan is coming off his best NHL season both offensively (25 points) and defensively (+15 rating). As we’ve discussed in de Haan’s player report card – conveniently titled “Stay Away Vegas” – he had a great season paired alongside Dennis Seidenberg (who recently received a one-year contract extension) and is a physical player who hits and blocks shots. While who the Islanders protect for the expansion draft or which format they use is still up to anyone’s guess, regardless of the format it looks like de Haan would be the one to go. However, letting a good defenseman go for free doesn’t seem like a fair exchange if you’re the Islanders and perhaps a trade could occur before the Expansion Draft occurs. Friedman mentioned the Detroit Red Wings as a team that could potentially be interested in de Haan but I’m sure there are plenty of teams that would also be interested. de Haan is currently a restricted free agent (RFA) who is certainly due for a pay-raise after coming off a three-year, $5,900,000 deal (1,966,667 AAV) deal.
Ilya Kovalchuk to Brooklyn?:
One of the best parts of being a fan of a professional sports team is speculation. Everyone wants to think that their team has a chance at trading for or signing a star player but in this case, the Islanders might actually have a chance to do so. After signing a 15-year, $100,000,000 deal with the New Jersey Devils in 2010, Ilya Kovalchuk retired from the NHL and headed to the KHL following the 2012-2013 season. This past regular-season, Kovalchuk finished second in KHL scoring with 78 points (32 goals and 46 assists) through 60 games. During the playoffs, Kovalchuk had six goals and three assists through 18 games as his team won the Gagarin Cup, the trophy awarded to the KHL champion. Devils general manager Ray Shero recently confirmed the rumor that Kovalchuk is seeking a return to the NHL. Due to Kovalchuk voluntarily retiring from the NHL while under contract, the only way he could return would be through the Devils with the second option of all NHL teams approving his return being highly-unlikely; especially since the Devils would lose his rights for nothing as he would head to free agency. The easiest way for a return to happen would be a sign-and-trade where the Devils sign Kovalchuk and then immediately trade him elsewhere. There have been plenty of reports regarding Kovalchuk and his return and one is that he would like to play in the New York or Florida area. At age 34, Kovalchuk still has a lot to offer coming off his best KHL season statically speaking. The former first overall pick (Atlanta Trashers, 2001) has 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 regular-season games and has made three trips to the postseason (32GP, 11G, 16A) with his most recent playoff appearance reaching the Stanley Cup Final with New Jersey in 2012. In his “30 Thoughts”, Friedman wonders if the Islanders will try and go after Kovalchuk especially considering he said he wanted to play in the New York area. Friedman also said that Kovalchuk has reportedly expressed interest in the New York Rangers but he questions if the Rangers share the same interest and could even afford/pull-off a trade for him.
So it looks like the Islanders are having a somewhat productive offseason so far… They have officially named Doug Weight head coach, they gave Dennis Seidenberg a one-year contract extension worth $1.25 million, Travis Hamonic has been nominated for the NHL Foundation Award, six Islanders are at the 2017 IIHF World Championships and performing well (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Thomas Greiss, Dennis Seidenberg, Calvin de Haan, and goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin), the Islanders found out that they will be selecting 15th overall at the 2017 NHL Draft, and the Islanders signed goaltending prospect Linus Söderström to an entry-level deal. So what’s next for the Islanders? The Entry and Expansion drafts aren’t too far away, they still have to make these rumored coaching changes official, their arena situation still needs some clarity, and lastly, the Islanders will have the opportunity to re-sign John Tavares starting July 1st. As the offseason moves onward, there will probably be more added to the to-do list but for now, there’s still a lot to do and not as much time as one would think.
Thanks to capfriendly.com for the great salary/contract information, NHL.com and Wikipedia for statistics, northjersey.com for outlining how Kovalchuk could return, Arthur Staple for the initial update on the Islanders’ coaching staff, and Elliotte Friedman for his always very insightful “30 Thoughts” column.