For the first time in years, the New York Islanders and their fans aren’t looking at the NHL Draft (on Friday) as the main chance of acquiring talent to build a contender upon.
Instead, all eyes have shifted 10 days ahead to Jul. 1. That’s where the start of free agency offers the chance of developing the Islanders from a nice little playoff team to a Stanley Cup threat.
While president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello is known for being tight-lipped and cryptic on the market, his recent actions are providing some clarity as to what the Islanders may do in the next few weeks.
A dormant offseason that had only featured the extension of Brock Nelson sprang to life on Friday when winger Jordan Eberle re-signed with the Islanders, inking a five-year, $27.5 million deal.
It was a somewhat unexpected move considering many believed Eberle would walk in free agency; whether that was because he wanted to play elsewhere or because the Islanders wanted to focus their approximate $40 million in cap space elsewhere. After all, the Islanders still have numerous pending unrestricted free agents to address including captain Anders Lee and goaltender Robin Lehner.
But Eberle’s decision to take a cheaper deal to stay with the Islanders suggests that the culture is continuing to change for an organization that has had tremendous difficulty over the last few decades acquiring or keeping top-tier talent.
Following Eberle’s signing, the Islanders are left with approximately $22 million in cap space for the remainder of the offseason. Using deductive reasoning, it seems clear what the Islanders plans are moving forward.
Though that can never be confirmed when dealing with Lamoriello.
Still, the signing of Lee and Lehner will be paramount this week to ensure the foundation of the team remains intact.
Seeing Lee walk would mean the Islanders losing a captain for a second-straight year which would provide a sizable blow. The problem is that Lee is looking for a seven-to-eight-year deal while the Islanders are looking at five or six years, per the Athletic’s Arthur Staple.
The 28-year-old is projected to receive between $6.5 million- $ 7million regardless of term.
Lehner will also be looking for a noticeable payday after the Islanders took a chance on him last summer with a $1.5 million deal. It turned out to be the largest steal in the league as the netminder is up for the Vezina Trophy after posting a career year.
Signing both players would leave the Islanders with enough space for one big-time free agent, whether that comes in the form of center Matt Duchene or winger Artemi Panarin.
Panarin has also been heavily linked to the crosstown-rival Rangers while Duchene has seemingly been on the Islanders’ radar for the past two years.
While either signing would provide the Islanders with a much-needed boost to a stagnant offense and miserable power play, Lamoriello is expected to put some of his defense on the market to add more scoring depth.
Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey are reportedly on the market and defensive-needy teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers could become ideal trade partners.
The Blackhawks could offer Brandon Saad as a middle-line winger capable of scoring 20-plus goals. Florida, on the other hand, has been rumored to trade Mike Hoffman since the February deadline.
Hoffman put up a career-best 36 goals in his first year with the Panthers, including 18 power-play tallies.