The signing of free-agent goaltender Martin Biron gives the Islanders 20 NHL contracts, including No. 1 overall rookie John Tavares. They have three restricted free agents -- forwards Blake Comeau and Nate Thompson and defenseman Jack Hillen -- who remain unsigned for the last three NHL roster spots.
At the same time, general manager Garth Snow still is shopping around for an enforcer, and if a scoring winger became available for the right short-term price, the GM might make a move. Any more free-agent signings would have ramifications for the three RFAs, but the one most at risk appears to be Comeau.
Here's why. Thompson has an arbitration hearing scheduled Monday, but he is assured of having a contract. No team can walk away from an award of $1.5 million or less, and Thompson is certain to get less than that amount, which means he will be an Islander next season. Indications are the Islanders are confident they will reach a deal with Hillen in the near future.
But there is a significant difference between what Snow has offered Comeau and what his agent, Kurt Overhardt, is asking. A multi-year, one-way deal offered by the Isles was rejected because of financial differences.
Under club policy, any player who isn't signed by the start of training camp won't be signed the rest of the season. That policy was enforced three years ago in the case of Sean Bergenheim. If the Comeau negotiations drag out to that deadline, he runs the risk that Snow will make a move for an enforcer or a scoring forward sometime sooner. If that happens, Comeau's options would be a two-way contract or a season in Europe.
Faced with a similar situation last year, forwards Frans Nielsen and Jeff Tambellini took the Islanders' one-way contract offers for the chance to prove themselves. Nielsen signed for a bargain price of $525,000 per year but got the security of a four-year deal. Tambellini got two years at $587,500 per. It's believed the Isles' offer to Comeau is reasonably higher than his qualifying offer of $605,000 that was rejected and would take him up to unrestricted free agency in two years.
Comeau is a promising prospect with upside, but the fact is that, in 104 NHL games, he's totaled 15 goals and 25 assists. He has more to prove, and the Islanders are asking him to do it at their price.
ISLES FILES: Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro still is scheduled to begin skating in August, but if you recall, that's when he began skating last season after knee surgery. He worked out on his own throughout training camp, played only the last exhibition game and didn't start until the fifth game of the season. After three games, he was back on the injured list and headed for surgery again. That's the scenario Snow wants to avoid, and it's why he signed Biron when the price was right. The signing eliminates completely any need for DiPietro to return before he is sound and in top playing condition. If he holds up when he returns, then, maybe Biron will fetch a high draft pick from a team desperate for goaltending…Okay, now I really am going on vacation for a while. But other Newsday reporters will be following the Islanders and posting right here. There will be more news this summer, especially at the Aug. 4 Town of Hempstead hearing at Hofstra University's Adams Playhouse. If you have bookmarked this page in the past, the changeover to a new blogging system at Newsday has resulted in a change of address. Here is the new address for Islanders Beat: http://www.newsday.com/islandersblog. Have a great summer.