The New York Islanders had a very busy and productive day on July 5, the first day of this summer’s NHL free agency. The Isles re-signed their starting goalie, assured that one of their top young defensemen will remain a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come and added a pair of free agent forwards to round out their roster.
With the NHL salary cap going down after the lockout and this year’s free agent crop considered thin, today was more of a sprint than a marathon. Isles GM Garth Snow was in the midst of the race and the Isles were active throughout the day.
The biggest long-term impact came when Snow re-signed defenseman Travis Hamonic to a seven-year contract extension worth a reported $27 million.
Hamonic will turn 23 in August. Last season, he scored three goals and 10 points while playing in all 48 games for the Islanders.
Snow noted Hamonic’s clutch play and his value in the key situations when announcing the signing. “We are excited to come to terms with Travis, who is an important part of our young core,” Snow said in a statement. “He has shown that he can play important minutes, in any situation and we are thrilled that he’ll be an Islander for seven more years.”
The seven-year term is a bit long, but Hamonic will be 29 when the contract expires so the Isles have essentially locked up one of their up and coming talents and locker room leaders for the bulk of his prime years. Furthermore, the cap hit is reasonable assuming Hamonic develops into a top pair-defenseman.
The Islanders also welcomed back goaltender Evgeni Nabokov who inked a one-year deal worth a reported $3.25 million. Nabokov will turn 38 later this month. He helped lead the Isles to the playoffs last season and finished with a 23-11-7 record, a GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage of .910.
Nabokov added veteran leadership and experience to the locker room but he seemed to run out of gas in the playoffs after playing nearly every game last year down the stretch since the Isles lacked a quality backup.
The Islanders still need to fortify their goaltending position. Kevin Poulin is still at least a year away from being ready to challenge for an NHL starting position and it would do him little good to spend another season on the bench playing 25-30 games. A season playing 55-60 games at Bridgeport would benefit Poulin a lot more.
Meanwhile, if Nabokov is going to be the Isles starter, the team needs a backup who can play at least 30-35 games and keep Nabby fresh late in the season and once the playoffs roll around.
The Islanders also added a pair of free agents Friday. They signed forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a 29-year-0ld, 10-year veteran who has spent his entire NHL career with the Minnesota Wild. It was a one-year deal worth $2 million according to published reports.
Bouchard scored eight goals and 20 points in 43 games for Minnesota last season. His best skill is his passing and he has three seasons with 40-or-more assists in his NHL career including a career-best 50 in 2007-08. He should be a top-six forward for the Islanders and help on the power play if he is healthy. Injuries have limited Bouchard’s playing time in recent seasons. The last time he played in more than 60 games in an NHL season was 2008-09 when he played in 71 games.
The Isles also added a depth forward in Peter Regin. The 27-year-old Dane registered three assists in 27 games with Ottawa last season. He has 19 career goals and 55 points in 127 NHL games, all with Ottawa. He will add depth to the Isles bottom-six forwards this season.
The Isles lost forward Keith Aucoin who signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues.
The Islanders will hold their Blue/Orange Prospects Scrimmage on Thursday, July 11th at 7 PM at the Nassau Coliseum. Among those scheduled to play are this year’s first-round pick Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Andrey Pedan and Scott Mayfield.