Friday July 24th, 2009

Maybe you just have to take Islanders GM Garth Snow at face value when he explains why he decided to add Martin Biron to his suddenly crowded stable of netminders on Wednesday.

"Adding Marty gives us three bona-fide number one goalies," Snow offered in a statement announcing the free-agent signing. "We learned about the importance of stability in our lineup from last season. Biron allows us to have another quality starter."

You can argue that part about quality -- disenchanted Flyers fans, for example, might be inclined to quibble. You can even debate the point about three number one goalies when that group includes Rick DiPietro, a player who is only slightly less brittle than balsa wood.

And after signing Dwayne Roloson as starter insurance, Scott Munroe as back-up insurance, and drafting Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson in the second and third rounds this year, the addition of Biron might seem a bit superfluous. But from Snow's perspective, it's a no-lose deal.

A spare NHL goalie himself before he graduated to the big chair, even Snow had to blanch at the steady diet of third- and fourth-stringers like Joey MacDonald, Yann Danis and Peter Mannino that he forced on the Island's long-suffering fans last season while DiPietro lingered on IR for all but five games. In Roloson and Biron, Snow gives coach Scott Gordon an unspectacular but reliable tandem.

Of course, you can't just take this at face value, right?

Oh sure, there's a chance Snow simply made with the move with a buy-low, sell-high mentality. He snapped up a bargain-basement asset whose value increases as soon as someone else's starter goes down with a long-term injury. Or one that will start looking much shinier to a team that's hoping to shore up its playoff chances for the stretch run.

So Snow commits to a one-year, $1.4 million contract that's easy to swallow if he holds it all year and even easier to move if another team comes a' courtin'. That's just solid asset management, right? Sure ... from the perspective of the Islanders.

The bigger question might be why Biron, the top stopper in Philadelphia for the last two seasons, would sign on with a team that has two established No. 1 goalies ahead of him on the depth chart.

Unless, of course, they don't.

It's not that the K-Car-like reliability of DiPietro comes as a surprise to anyone. After five surgical procedures in the past three years, including three knee operations last season, the former first overall pick with the 15-year contract is starting to smell suspiciously of lemon. Given sufficient time to heal, he could regain much, if not all, of the form that once made him America's Next Top Goaltender. Word from some optimistic quarters suggests that could happen as soon as American Thanksgiving.

But Biron was fairly plain spoken in interviews following the deal. When the two teams in the market for a No. 1 stopper -- Edmonton and Colorado -- passed him over for Nikolai Khabibulin and Craig Anderson, respectively, Biron recognized the need for a different approach. It wasn't just a matter of accepting a significant downgrade from his $3.5 million paycheck last season. He had to find a way to remain relevant after a tumultuous final campaign with the Flyers. The KHL might have been an option -- it seems to have worked out all right for Ray Emery, his replacement in Philly -- but Russia didn't appeal to Biron. He wanted to demonstrate what he could do in the NHL. But if he was looking for a chance to prove himself, it's hard to believe he'd sign on someplace where he'll have just seven weeks, in the back-up role no less, to do it.

No, I think the real meaning of the Biron deal is clear. Either DiPietro has informed the Islanders that he's a lot further away than the end of November or, more likely, the Isles are shutting him down for a long defined period to ensure that he feels no pressure to rush back into the lineup. The presence of a pair of 1-B goalies buys him as much time as he needs.

Even if it means the entire season.

Every parent can recognize the signs of a kid who needs a nap. The whining. The sudden mood swings. The crazy talk.

He might not display all the classic symptoms, but there've been signs over the past few days that make me wonder if perhaps Paul Kelly could use a little quiet time.

The executive director of the NHLPA spent the past season establishing himself as perhaps the most positive force working on behalf of the game. But he's had moments the past week that suggest a rest might be in order. First, there was his recommendation that players skip on-ice activities at Olympic orientation camps due to perceived insurance shortfalls. That one was followed by an unconvincing spin job from a union rep who denied that the PA forced eight German NHLers to pull out of that country's camp on Monday.

Now Kelly has heads shaking after he claimed that Dany Heatley is the victim in his current imbroglio with the Senators and Oilers.

"I think Dany's been unfairly treated by the media and by the [Ottawa] organization," Kelly told CHED radio in Edmonton. "The message out there is that he's behaved in a selfish manner by requesting a trade . . . and then blocking a trade that was on the table. While it's true he requested a trade, it was not Dany Heatley or his agent that made that fact public . . . I don't think Dany's stepped in in any way to block trades in a way that would seriously prejudice the Ottawa Senators. We think that Dany's been getting a bit of a raw deal.

"It's unfortunate for Dany. I think he's the victim of a bad set of circumstances."

Wait. What?

It may be true that Heatley's camp was not behind the story going public. That said, he couldn't possibly have expected it to remain an internal issue for long. When a player of his magnitude is being shopped at his own request, someone's going to talk. And once it did become public, and once he made it clear that he was unwilling to accept a trade to the Oilers, it's been his choice to stay inside the protective bubble of his summer cottage, leaving only long enough to cash that $4 million bonus check he was owed by Ottawa. Of course, it was the same $4 million that forced the Sens to raise their asking price for the sniper and, in effect, ensured that no team would be able to meet it. Which means that, barring some sudden act of desperation from a contending team, Heatley's going nowhere.

There are plenty of victim tags to be handed out here. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, for being forced to peddle a player who signed a long-term deal just a year ago. Coach Cory Clouston, who apparently made the mistake of expecting Heatley to do more with his ice time than simply try to score and now has to move on without (or worse, with) his top sniper.

And how about Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid, the three Oilers offered to Ottawa who have to return to a team that was more than willing to let them go? If Kelly wanted to stand up for union members in this matter, those were the guys who deserved his support.

But Heatley? A victim? Give it a rest, Paul.

Nice move by the Hurricanes to re-acquire veteran blueliner Aaron Ward in exchange for Patrick Eaves and a fourth-rounder. Ward is a familiar quantity and a great leader, both on the ice and in the room. Look for him to be slotted alongside Joni Pitkanen, freeing up the offensive-minded Finn to make the most of his instinctual game. And look for a little fence-mending between Ward and Scott Walker, the Carolina forward whose cheap shot to the face knocked the then-Bruin out of Game 7 of their quarterfinal clash.

For the Bruins, this is all about clearing salary. Ward's $2.5 million is off the books and the expectation is that Eaves ($3.1 million over the next two seasons) will be bought out. If that's the case, it's a sad ending for the promising forward, a first round pick (29th overall by Ottawa in 2003) who never seemed to regain his confidence after being crushed by a Colby Armstrong hit in the 2007 playoffs. But that $2.5 million in cap space (minus the $231,000 over each of the next four years charged to the Eaves buyout) is more important to the B's than an NHL body as it clears space that can be used to sign RFA winger Phil Kessel.

You also should expect to see at least one more move from the Bruins, who now look a little thin on the blueline. I still expect Chuck Kobasew to be dealt, either for a right-handed defenseman or to clear more space for a rightie free agent like Sergei Zubov.

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