Top 5 Dan Boyle Alternatives New York Islanders Should Pursue Come Free Agency
Acquired early June for a conditional fifth-round pick (which becomes a fourth if he signs), Boyle was thought to be the possible answer on defense for a team that gave up 30 shots per game and the third-most goals this past season (261).
Seeing as general manager Garth Snow had successfully pulled off a similar coup, acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals last month and then signing him to shore up his goaltending, doing the same with Boyle wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility—except for the shoring-up-his-defense part. Boyle turns 38 in July after all.
For that very same reason, he is probably destined to test free agency as well. Boyle just doesn’t have many more chances to win another championship. He would logically like to go to a team with more of a realistic shot at the Stanley Cup (getting out of San Jose must have been the first part of his master plan).
Assuming Boyle ultimately chooses to pursue free agency—and seeing as the Islanders by all accounts can use another defenseman—here are five alternatives for Snow to target come July 1.
5. Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens)
It’s slightly ironic that Andrei Markov might just be more of a complete defenseman than Boyle, seeing as he is missing two healthy knees. Nevertheless, Markov—when not out of the lineup nursing a knee injury—has been a constant, reliable presence on the Montreal Canadiens blue line ever since the turn of the century.
This past season he had seven goals and 36 assists in addition to a plus-12 rating with the Habs, while Boyle had just 36 total points (12 goals) and a minus-8 rating on a much stronger Sharks squad.
Markov obviously isn’t the same defenseman he was even a half-decade ago, but at 35 he is slightly younger than Boyle and arguably more competent defensively. However, he’s only ranked at No. 5 here for a reason, namely that he’s a left-handed shot (Boyle shoots right).
Excluding Boyle, the Islanders only having two right-handed shooting defensemen currently under contract (Travis Hamonic and Matt Carkner…so really just Hamonic), so going after another left-handed defenseman, no matter how good a fit he might be, just doesn’t make much sense.
Add into the equation Markov and the Habs being reportedly close to an extension, according to La Presse writer Richard Labbé (h/t Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk), and Snow should probably look elsewhere for his defensive fix this July.
4. Sami Salo (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Tampa Bay Lightning were reportedly interested in acquiring Boyle’s rights before the Islanders beat them to the punch, making them potential trade partners even before July 1 comes around.
If Snow realizes Boyle will not end up signing with New York, it might make sense to flip him to either recoup the draft pick he lost to San Jose or get the rights to someone else in exchange. And, according to Tampa Bay Times writer Joe Smith, (h/t Jason Brough of Pro Hockey Talk), Boyle is also interested in a reunion with the franchise with which he won his only championship back in 2004.
Since Tampa has a soon-to-be free agent defenseman who shoots right of their own (Sami Salo, in addition to fringe NHLers Brian Lee and Mike Kostka), it just may be a match made in heaven. For example: Boyle is a power-play specialist whose best years are behind him at 37, while Salo is a power-play specialist who’s two years older than Boyle.
Looking at it that way, it’s probably best to label Salo "Plan B" and move on to greener, younger pastures.
3. Raphael Diaz (New York Rangers)
The Islanders can do a whole lot worse than New York Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz. He shoots right (check), is just 28 (check), knows the area (check) and is great in the defensive zone (wait—no check).
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. After all, Boyle has his defensive shortcomings too. So long as Diaz is great on the power play, it might not matter that he’s a 5’11”, physically unassertive pushover in his own zone.
Looking at his stats, I see he does have four power-play assists. Hold on—four power-play assists, total? Oh, no, phew, I mean 16 power-play assists total...in his career…over three seasons…without any goals. The four helpers were just last year.
My bad. Well, my mistake actually. Diaz is the one who’s bad. But I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course, in the relative sense—you know, when compared to other NHL defensemen.
The simple truth is that Diaz has potential to be a great offensive defenseman. No joke. However, there are red flags aplenty as to why the Islanders should steer clear from him.
For starters, he only dressed in four of the Rangers’ 25 playoff games (despite being healthy enough to play when John Moore got suspended). Secondly, he only became a Ranger after getting traded twice last season. The first time was for Dale Weise by the Habs to the Vancouver Canucks. The second time, Vancouver got considerably less from the Rangers (a fifth-round selection).
The final red flag? While he does in fact shoot right, the Habs currently find themselves in a similar predicament relative to the Islanders. They have two right-handed defensemen on the roster currently in P.K. Subban and Mike Weaver. However, they only acquired Weaver a month after trading Diaz, meaning for a time they preferred to make do with just a single right-handed defenseman rather than keep him around.
Sure, they got a fourth-liner in Weise in return, but look at it this way: They only got a fourth liner.
If the Islanders do decide to go after Diaz, it wouldn’t be the worst move. However, they’d be signing him purely on his potential, and he’s already 28 and that potential has yet to show up consistently after three seasons. While the Islanders can indeed do worse, they can also do a whole lot better.
2. Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh Penguins)
There are few right-handed free-agent defensemen available who offer as much as Pittsburgh Penguins rearguard Matt Niskanen.
He’s just 27, is coming off a 46-point season, and was a plus-33 (plus-39 in his career). He no doubt represents the ideal defenseman the Islanders should be looking for, with just one small caveat: He represents the ideal defenseman a lot of other teams will be looking for too.
In fact, if you were to look at all the soon-to-be-available defensemen, you can make a pretty good case that Niskanen isn’t just the best right-handed defenseman available, but the best defenseman available, period.
Sure, he has his flaws, but look at the list of free agent defensemen, care of capgeek.com, for yourself:
Brooks Orpik, Willie Mitchell, Nick Schultz, Henrik Tallinder, Stephane Robidas, Matt Greene and Derek Morris are all either defense-first, over-the-hill blueliners, or just plain over the hill.
Meanwhile, the injury-prone Joni Pitkanen, who’s just 30, hasn’t played even an 80-game season in…ever. He hasn’t even played 80 games over the last three years combined! Andrej Meszaros and Kyle Quincey (both 28) would conversely be decent options were they not so inconsistent year-to-year, or, you know, game-to-game.
All this points to Niskanen being in high demand. Sure, the Islanders can make a play for him. However, for a team that once acquired Tim Thomas just to get above the salary-cap floor, knowing full well he had no intention of playing that season, overspending on players isn’t really an option. As such, New York needs another alternative.
1. Tom Gilbert (Florida Panthers)
In many ways, Tom Gilbert is already the prototypical New York Islander.
He was forced to sign a one-year, $900,000 deal with the Florida Panthers last season after falling out of favor with the Minnesota Wild. On a team rife with waiver-wire pick-ups (Michael Grabner, Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait) and washouts who likely wouldn’t be able to find work elsewhere (Evgeni Nabokov, Lubomir Visnovsky and Radek Martinek), Gilbert is a perfect fit (or misfit, if you prefer).
He’s just 31, probably has at least a few good years left and, yes, shoots right. He’s known for his offense and impressively put up a respectable 28 points in 73 games with the Panthers, a team that scored the second-lowest amount of goals last season (188).
He also played competently in his own zone, which is saying a lot when the Panthers also allowed the second-most goals in the NHL (262). He finished with a minus-5, which is only bad until you consider teammate Dmitry Kulikov finished with a minus-26. On top of that, he managed a Corsi for rating 51.7 in five-on-five situations, according to Extra Skater.
Gilbert may not be a first-pairing defenseman, but Boyle is one in name only right now.
While New York can definitely use Boyle’s name to sell tickets, Gilbert is a pretty good one too (even if it won’t sell any jerseys unless it’s to fans who are actually first-named Gilbert and delusional enough to think it would be a cool nice-to-have).
Gilbert is bound to be cheaper, only a slight downgrade offensively, probably an upgrade defensively and, perhaps most importantly, likely wouldn’t say no to becoming an Islander. Boyle, who is technically an Islander right now, pretty much already has. It’s time for Snow to move on.