Ahead of a summer that will be dominated by free agency, the New York Islanders took their first step last week in molding next year’s team.
Lou Lamoriello ensured second-line center Brock Nelson would avoid free agency on Jul. 1, inking the 27-year-old to a six-year, $36 million contract.
Nelson — who took a bit of a hometown discount to remain with the Islanders after initial estimates put him around the $7 million AAV mark — is coming off a 25-goal season with a career-best 53 points.
It’s the first real dent in the Islanders’ salary cap as Lamoriello began the offseason with approximately $35 million to work with. Only three teams in the NHL had more space.
With all that cash, the Islanders are expected to address a punchless offense that struggled mightily down the stretch.
And Nelson’s re-signing helps paint a picture of what Lamoriello’s plans may be moving forward.
Bringing back Nelson on that kind of deal indicates that this is the Islanders’ second-line center of the future behind Mathew Barzal.
That means Lamoriello likely will end the ceaseless links between the Islanders and upcoming free agent center Matt Duchene.
The two have been attached at the hip within the trade rumor mill for the better part of two years. His constant availability on the market was seen as an immediate upgrade for the Islanders, even if it was just as a rental.
Now the Islanders are poised to start upgrading their talent on the wings, particularly on the first line.
Duchene’s teammate for half the season, Artemi Panarin, is one of the marquee free agents this summer and should undoubtedly receive interest from the Islanders.
Jeff Skinner also set himself up for a huge payday by putting up his first-ever 40-goal season with the Buffalo Sabres as he heads to free agency this summer.
Both wingers are elite-level offensive talents that would inject some real clout into New York’s offense.
With trade assets like defenseman Nick Leddy — whose departure would make way for top prospect Noah Dobson — the Islanders could add more wing depth that way.
The Athletic’s Arthur Staple listed Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks and Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild as two possible trade targets.
It would allow head coach Barry Trotz to flex captain Anders Lee to the second line and flank Barzal with premier goal-scoring talent. It will only help the youngster’s game flourish after an inconsistent second season.