The New York Islanders are facing one of the most important offseasons in recent memory.
Following a second-round playoff exit where they defied the odds with a subpar roster, president Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz can spend this summer tweaking things up.
The Islanders were the NHL’s top defensive team during the regular season and through the first round of the playoffs. Yet a lack of scoring punch created by the absence of true goal scorers inside a structured, defensive system was the team’s ultimate Achilles Heel.
It was something Trotz admitted the Islanders needed shortly after being swept out of the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes in which the Islanders scored five goals in four games.
Free agency is going to provide Lamoriello and Trotz with a bevy of opportunities to pick up some offensive help this summer. Among the names available is Columbus Blue Jackets center Matt Duchene — fresh off a 31-goal, 39-assist campaign — who has been constantly linked with the Islanders over the past two years.
Duchene was traded twice in the past two years: From the Colorado Avalanche to the Ottawa Senators last season before being shipped to the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline in February.
Columbus is in danger of losing several talents that played a large role in their run to the second round of the postseason. Alongside Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Ryan Dzingel are free agents as well.
On Monday, Duchene revealed a pretty sizable clue that his time in Columbus is up, which is good news for the Islanders.
Duchene posted a message on Instagram in which he thanked Blue Jackets fans for his brief stint in Columbus (h/t FireTheCannon.com). He deleted the post shortly after.
“Thank you for giving myself and my family such a warm welcome and for giving my teammates and I memories we’ll never forget,” he wrote. “You guys are incredible.”
While it wasn’t a direct goodbye, messages like that are commonplace for players who are preparing to skip town.
It will have the Islanders likely poised to strike come Jul. 1 when free agency begins. According to CapFriendly.com, the Islanders are projected to have $35.2 million in cap space this offseason. Only three teams — including the Senators and Avalanche — have more.
With the Islanders miles ahead of their rebuilding schedule and with shovels possibly breaking ground on their new arena next month, Lamoriello and Trotz can promise a bright future for Duchene in New York.