Sigh. (Getty)

Sigh. (Getty)

There’s a lot to be excited about on the Island, and a lot of good young talent stockpiled by a general manager who is savvier than his record indicates. If it weren’t for the penny-pinching owner who siphons gas from cars in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot to fill the team bus, there would be a lot to be happy about the following:

  • A particularly impressive first line centred by John Tavares, who does not seem at all fazed by the loss of P.A. Parenteau.
  • An excellent top four that is now bolstered by the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky. He’ll join Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit.
  • One of the most exciting two-way players in the game in Frans Nielsen, a killer on breakaways and definitely the inspiration for this blog’s name.

It would be fun if you added to that “the best goaltender since the 2005 lockout” to the equation since the New York Islanders are now the team that owns the rights to Tim Thomas and his suspended contract.

Of course, the point of the trade that ‘brought’ Thomas to Long Island certainly wasn’t made under the pretext that the Islanders are an elite goaltender away from competing. Even though Thomas isn’t playing and isn’t collecting the money on his contract, it still counts against the salary cap. The Boston Bruins, a team right at the upper-limit and needing to shuffle the deck a little to have space to make another move, had a need to get him off the books. The Islanders, at the other end of the Capgeek chart, don’t have the financial resources to pay up to the salary cap. If they get pay the salary floor each year, that’s an accomplishment.

So the Islanders, and their savvy general manager, whose talents aren’t being used in this case to improve the team from a hockey standpoint (as they were when he signed Brad Boyes to a $1-million deal for a season last summer) he’s saving his club a bit of money.

But we all knew that. The deal makes sense from a practical standpoint, the real problem with the deal is the ick-factor, knowing that there are fans on Long Island who spend their hard-earned money to watch a team that isn’t trying to compete. I’m not an expert on Charles Wang’s books, or whether or not he’s made legitimate efforts to sell the team. I do know that his attempts to rebuild the Islanders’ arena district didn’t go over too well with the local government, and I do know that he decided to move to the team to the brand new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, which is a nice arena, but would lack end-zone seats on one side of the arena.

An aside here, but that move bugs be for a couple of reasons. The first is the aesthetic value of watching a team on TV while they’re playing one end in a walled-up section of the rink. Their current set-up at Nassau is bad enough, where the camera is stationed at a low angle on the home blue line. The second reason the move bugs me is that the Islanders’ logo is geographically accurate. Not many people know this, but according to nhluniforms.com, the tipped ‘I’ in the word Islanders in the logo points directly to the location of the arena on Long Island.

From Jesse Spector Sean Gentille:

As is often the case with the Islanders, the deal is salary cap-related. They had to reach the lower limit by Friday, and acquiring Thomas gets them there. Because he’s suspended, they don’t have to pay his $5 million salary—and because he was older than 35 when he signed his current contract, he counts against the cap regardless. That will be true in perpetuity until he plays the last year of his deal. He could also officially retire, in which case he’d still count against the cap for one more season. [Sporting News]

The “conditional pick” sent by the Islanders to the Bruins probably doesn’t matter. It’s a condition, apparently—that will be met if Thomas suits up to play under this current deal. If Thomas expresses his desire to play before the end of the year, my bet is that the Islanders could easily recoup the cost, but I don’t think that’s in their plans. If Thomas wants to play for the Islanders, the team could toll the suspended year forward, as they did for Evgeny Nabokov, but if Thomas still doesn’t want to play, what’s to keep the Islanders from keeping the contract on the books until Thomas shows up determined to collect his cash? He’s more valuable to the team when he isn’t playing.

This is insurance against the salary floor, as Katie Strang described it. Now that Lubomir Visnovsky is playing for the Islanders, they could theoretically trade him. Or Mark Streit. Or Evgeny Nabokov. Or any part of their collection of expiring contracts, and they could do it without worrying about hitting the salary floor.

This isn’t the first time the Islanders have made a move in the last month that hinders their ability to ice a competitive team while saving the team cash against the salary floor. As Triumph from Driving Play noted after details of the changes to the collective bargaining went online, teams can no longer use performance bonuses on entry-level deals to artificially reach the salary cap. This meant that it wasn’t worth it for the Islanders to play Ryan Strome or Griffin Reinhart in the NHL this year, or Nino Niederreiter or Brock Nelson, who were tearing up the AHL at last blush.

It’s hard to look at these actions and not see the pattern – instead of using bonus-laden years to buoy themselves up to the salary floor, the Islanders are now saving Entry-Level years on contracts.  Strome’s contract still has another slide year – he’ll now be UFA in 2020 instead of 2019.  Niederreiter’s contract can’t be saved, but they sure can sit on him to make sure he has no leverage at all on his second contract.  And who needs Reinhart eating up minutes and contract time in the NHL when you can get Brian Strait off the street to do much the same thing? [Driving Play]

Presumably, the Islanders will one day be able to use their wealth of player resources to ice a competitive team. Why the rush? Tavares is signed through 2018, Nielsen and Michael Grabner through 2016. By the time the team is in a better position to make money playing out of the Barclay’s Center, Matt Moulson may be the only key player to disappear from the roster, after Streit and Visnovsky are turned into something other than an expiring contract this trade deadline.

The pattern obviously sucks for Islanders fans, who have to sit there and wait until the team moves out of the county before it will be competitive. You have the feeling that with a few more dollars, this could be a team that wins now, but the Islanders still have a round of selling off before ownership will decide whether or not they want to give the all-clear for the team to buy up a few good players, leverage their young talent for established NHLers, and even try make it back to the playoffs. The way teams like the Islanders, or the Miami Marlins in baseball, are run, sometimes going into seasons with no clear desire to compete makes you wish that a system of promotion and relegation wasn’t foreign in North American sports. The team would at least have to pretend to care at that point.

The other aspect of this trade… good for Boston, who are going to be able to add another key piece this season. Hint hint.

Comments (12)

  1. There’s no arguing that this was a cap-move (rather than to improve team’s performance) but I would argue it could do both.

    A young team like the Islanders will inherently be cheaper and struggle to reach the floor. Cap Mules in years past (Rolston, Minor, etc) have weighed down the team heavily. With this move they can ice whoever they want based on performance rather than their contract.

  2. The comparison to the Marlins isn’t fair. The islanders have invested in their younger players, the Frans Nielsen, Tavares, Grabner, and Okposo deals are evidence of that. Why have rush Rheinhart to “eat up minutes” when he is 19, when Strait has done a decent job at a minutes eating role. Rheinhart will hopefully be more than just a simple minutes eater when he graduates to the NHL. They rushed Neidereiter last year and it was a disaster.
    And your issue with the isles TV camera angle, I don’t get it, the angle is fine for wathcing games, some cameras are stationed way too high in the arena, and it feels like you are in the nose bleeds. We can’t guess what the barclays will look like until they do whatever renovations to the arena for hockey, which they are apparently doing before the Islanders move in.

    • Just a follow up to my Marlins comment that I forgot, they pocketed money for years and didnt invest in the team, and then pretty much stole money from the public in that stadium deal. The islanders have lost a ton of money, nobody is accusing Charles Wang of taking Islander profits and pocketing them, or of taking advantage of the county for a favorable arena deal. The marlins situation was egregious, and is nothing like what the Islanders have done. What young players have the Islanders traded in the last 10 years? What firesales have they had? It’s just not a good comparison.

    • On the camera – it’s very disorienting to me. The play feels far away when the puck goes in the far zone. I don’t like it personally, but maybe I’d get used to it if I watched the isles more often.

      On the Tavares, etc, deals – yeah, sure, they signed their kids. It’s a math thing; they have to sign some big deals to get to the cap floor. Where they get hurt is the 3rd and 4th lines. No scoring depth, and the other teams know it. Particularly on the road, when the top line is going to be stuck permanently with the checking line/top d pairing of the other team, it’s going to be a struggle down the stretch.

      Cam’s post is not too complicated: You don’t spend to the cap in the NHL these days, you’re simply not going to be competitive. Taking on a bogus contract to reach the floor is a joke, and the Isles deserve to be called out on it.

  3. might as well sign Hasek. At least he would show up.

  4. I have been somewhat in Wang’s corner for a while (especially with his battle against Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead). Not anymore. You have the arena situation taken care of…I don’t care if you aren’t moving until 2015 spend some money now! I think if Gary Bettman wasn’t mired in the mess with the Coyotes and finding an owner, he would put more pressure on Wang to operate like a major professional franchise should operate.

  5. As an Isles fan I love the deal. Bringing in another Rolston was not going to improve this team today or in years to come. Now you can make personnel moves based on hockey decisions not cap decisions. It adds flexibility without giving anything up. The worst scenario is Thomas, one of the greatest goalies of the last decade, shows up to play and you have him for a second round pick well jeez that really sucks. If they toll the contract (guaranteed) and he comes to play next year his cap hit is 5 mill but his salary is 3 mill. The Isles shelled out 2.75 for Nabokov this year I’m sure they would be more than willing to pay him 3 for a season.

  6. “One of the greatest goalies of the last decade”? Bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

    • Brodeur is the only other multi-Vezina winner in the last ten years. He has the second highest career save %. I don’t see how that’s a stretch.

  7. Holy hell, I hope Boston doesn’t get Iginla. That would just be unfair…

  8. “One of the most exciting two-way players in the game in Frans Nielsen”

    Nielsen is “exciting” in the exact same sense that Grabner skates like a turtle.

    There are a lot of good things to say about Nielsen’s game, but this has to be the first time anybody anywhere ever accused him of being exciting. It would be like calling him dirty. Excitement has zilch to do with the game Nielsen plays.

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