After consecutive semi-final playoff appearances, the New York Islanders finished a disappointing season with a 37-35-10 record. With the promotion of Lane Lambert to head coach, these New York Islanders’ off-season moves can reignite playoff hopes. First, General Manager Lou Lamoriello must shed cap space to afford acquisitions and extensions. According to CapFriendly, the Islanders have $12 million in cap space. Meanwhile, extensions are due for Noah Dobson and Kieffer Bellows. Long-time Islander forward Josh Bailey and his $5 million price tag may be a tempting option to trade. Additionally, a first-line winger is needed to support Mathew Barzal and a defensively sound left-handed defenseman is required for Dobson. With elite offensive help and a partner for Dobson, the Islanders can reemerge as playoff contenders.
New York Islanders Off-Season Moves
Off-Season Move #1: Cap Dump
In order to afford these New York Islanders’ off-season moves, Lamoriello must create more cap space. So far, Islanders forward Anthony Beauviller and goaltender Semyon Varlamov have been at the center of trade rumours. Frank Seravalli, Hockey Insider at Daily Faceoff, kept Varlamov at rank 13 in his most recent trades target list and Beauviller is a new addition at 15.
Varlamov has been trade bait since the 2022 trade deadline. Although Varlamov has been important to the Islanders’ cup runs, the veteran goaltender finished this season with a 10-17-2 record. It is convenient to write Varlamov off for this subpar season, but his struggles were due to injury and Covid-19. Meanwhile, Ilya Sorokin is ready to be the starter but that does not mean Varlamov is not valuable to the Islanders. When speaking to the media after the trade deadline, Lamoriello praised Varlamov for being vital to the development of Sorokin. While $5 million is costly for a 34-year-old backup netminder, a trustworthy tandem is worth the price.
Beauviller also struggled this past season. In 75 games, he scored nearly a career-low in goals with 12 and only 34 points. However, the Islanders should remain patient with their 28th pick in the 2015 first round, especially with a coaching change. There is no doubt that Beauviller underperformed to his $4.15 million contract this season, but so did his teammates. The Islanders are already the second oldest team at an average age of 29.13, and Beauviller adds much-needed speed and youth.
Josh Bailey would make the most sense as a cap dump for the Islanders. The 32-year-old winger is currently under a $5 million contract just to record 30-40 point seasons. Bailey used to be a serviceable playmaker and leader, but that is no longer the case. Teams interested in Bailey may include the Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings. These teams have plenty of cap space to retain Bailey’s contract, which would help reach the cap floor. With the removal of Bailey’s contract, there is more cap for New York Islanders’ off-season moves
Islanders sign Josh Bailey to 6-year contract extension worth reported $30M. https://t.co/JiujNjT8Oy pic.twitter.com/26VHZxvsqH
— theScore (@theScore) February 23, 2018
Move #2: Extend Roster Players
Once the Islanders gain cap space, this is straightforward. The Islanders only have two pending RFAs and three UFAs to resign. Out of these free agents, Dobson is the biggest priority. In his third season, the 22-year-old defenseman recorded 51 points in 80 games. After a slow start to the season, Dobson erupted as an agile skater with remarkable puck-moving abilities. Furthermore, the defenseman strived offensively on the Islanders’ first powerplay unit. For Dobson’s contract, a bridge deal is possible. Although Sorokin plays a different position, the extension for Dobson could also be 3 years at $4 million AAV.
Bellows is another RFA that must be signed. The 24-year-old winger did not have much ice time this past season, so expect a contract around the league minimum. With the promotion of Lambert, Bellows may be more competitive for a roster spot.
Move #3: Acquire a First-Line Winger
During the Lamoriello and Trotz period, the Islanders were notorious for their defensive trap style. While Lambert has been the right-hand man for Trotz’s career, offensive play should open up. For pending UFAs, wingers Johnny Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg jump out as perfect fits.
In regards to Gaudreau, the Flames’ superstar has recorded 609 points in 602 games. The team also has to re-sign RFA wingers Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane with about $27 million in cap space. Gaudreau’s contract will most likely be in the range of $9-10 million, which may be unaffordable for the Flames. However, this may also be too expensive for the Islanders, who do not currently have the cap space for this.
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Forsberg should be the first-line target. The 27-year-old Swede is in his prime after registering a season-high 84 points in just 69 games this past season. Additionally, the Nashville Predators may be considering a rebuilding stage after being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in round one. Since the Viktor Arvidsson trade, Forsberg has been vocal about disagreements with the Predators’ front office. In comparison to Gaudreau, the contract for Forsberg should be more affordable at an $8 million price range. Therefore, Forsberg and his sweet hands would be the best fit for the cycle game of Barzal.
Under the Radar Option
If the Islanders are not able to acquire either of these superstars, then RFA Kevin Fiala is an interesting option to trade for. Similar to Forsberg, Fiala is entering his prime and the 25-year-old winger registered a season-high in points this season. Fiala would pose as a reliable 30-goal scorer with an edge. It should be considered that both Fiala and Forsberg performed at their best in a contract year. However, the Wild are in a cap crunch due to the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Therefore, the Wild lack leverage in a trade for the rights of Fiala. To acquire the Swiss forward, the Islanders’ 13th overall pick in the 2022 draft and Bellows are adequate.
Move #4: Acquire a Partner for Dobson
The final move is to attain a top-four left-handed defenseman to play with offensive defenseman Dobson. During the past season, Chara and Dobson were the usual defensive pairing. However, Chara will share information on his NHL future in September and there is a high likelihood that the 45-year-old defenseman retires. Additionally, Dobson has escalated his game and a more adept defensive defenseman would be more compatible. In regards to the trade block, Jakob Chychrun continues to dominate as the big name on the market. However, the asking price has been reported to at least consist of a young player, a prospect. and a first-round pick, which may not be worthwhile for the Islanders.
Free agency is the optimal way to acquire a partner for Dobson. In particular, 28-year-old defenseman Brett Kulak is an interesting option for the Islanders. After being traded from the Montreal Canadiens, Kulak provided depth and structure to the Oilers’ defense. Kulak elevated the play of his partner Tyson Barrie, who was a defensive liability for the Oilers this past season. The pairing of Kulak and Dobson would be an improvement, and Robin Salo can play with Scott Mayfield. Through these four objectives, the Islanders fill the roster gaps in preparation for a competitive season.