If Boyle Bounces, Whom Should The Isles Look To Add On Defense?

Despite the aggressive move made by Garth Snow to acquire Dan Boyle’s negotiation rights prior to the opening of free agency, early reports indicate that Boyle will choose to sign with a new team once he is eligible to listen to other teams on July 1st.

Boyle originally stated that he would have an answer for the Isles by the end of the week. As of today, Boyle's agent George Bazos told Arthur Staple of Newsday that there is nothing new to report since there really isn't a timetable for Boyle to make up his mind (Photo credit: aff ei/Flickr).

Staple notes that the Isles may not be willing to be as patient with Boyle and could look to flip Boyle's rights to another team in order to get back the draft pick they gave to San Jose. You may remember that Snow did the same thing a few years back with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

If Boyle is to vacate himself of the Islanders’ plans for 2014, whom should Snow look to next to help his defense?

There are a handful of free agents that might be considered by Isles management.

One name that comes to mind is Brooks Orpik. He may not have the offense prowess that Boyle possesses, but Orpik knows what it takes to win. He has appeared with the Penguins in the playoffs every season since 2007 and helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in 2009. Known for his vicious hits and crease clearing abilities, Orpik would help strengthen the Islanders blue line and would be an intimidating presence alongside of Travis Hamonic.

If a veteran offensive presence is more of what the Islanders are looking for next year, Andrei Markov is set to be available this off-season as well. He is younger than Boyle at 35 years of age and still puts up numbers. This past year, Markov scored 43 points from the blue line in 81 games played. Nearly half of those points came on the power play (two goals and 19 assists), which would absolutely help the Islanders’ special teams play.

A slightly alarming stat about Markov is that he had a lot of trouble staying healthy between 2009 and 2012. However, he has only missed one game in the last two years. Therefore, his injury woes may be behind him, making him a valuable candidate to be added to the Islanders’ defense.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen (who many Isles fans remember walking away with blood on his face during a bout with Kyle Okposo in last year’s playoffs), is coming off a tremendous year with the Penguins and may be looking for a solid pay raise. In 81 games played, Niskanen scored 10 goals and 36 assists for 46 points, including 15 power play points. At 27 years of age, Niskanen has plenty of potential to increase his offensive output over the next few seasons as well.

However, this is Niskanen’s first significant season when looking at him as an offensive weapon; he has not scored more than 21 points in the previous five seasons. Could his stats be a misleading indication of his potential since he plays on a team with players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? Although he could help the Isles, making him a top priority is probably not in the Isles’ plans.

Other notable mentions are Andrej Meszaros, Kyle Quincey, Willie Mitchell and Stephane Robidas. These players would boost the Islanders' defense core next season, but were not mentioned above due to either age, lack of offense, or unique situations (for example, do you see Mitchell signing with the Isles after competing for the Stanley Cup in L.A? Neither do I).

There is still always the possibility that Snow continues to explore the trade route like he did with Boyle and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

But if I were Garth Snow, I would really think about trading for a defenseman who is already under contract to avoid the possibility of losing another impending free agent on July 1st. He would be bypassing the hectic contract negotiations, phone calls and deadlines and automatically be set for next season. The reality of that situation is that it would force Snow to decide which players in his system, whether the Islanders, Sound Tigers or junior level, can be deemed expendable.

It’s great to see that Snow is making efforts to improve his hockey team. But it is a universal expectation that this team is in fact improved for next year, and not just another failed attempt.

-Rob McGowan