The New York Islanders got involved in the madness that is free agency 2020, and team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was forced to make a move he didn’t necessarily want to execute.
With player movement slowed by a flat cap and teams trying to figure out a creative way to shed salary ahead of a season in question, the Islanders moved restricted free agent Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for two second-round picks in the NHL entry draft, one in 2021 and one in 2022.
Toews, 26, was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, a relative steal based on his talent level and skill set, and brought along slowly by the Islanders’ questionable development system. Over two seasons and 116 NHL games, Devon posted 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists), second on the team in regular season defenseman scoring (behind only Ryan Pulock), and he was first among blueliners in their bubble playoff run to the Eastern Conference Final.
He had his moments defensively in Toronto and Edmonton, that’s for certain, but will steadily improve that part of his game while continuing to add a mobile, puck-moving presence in the transition game and an adequate spark to the power play. He’ll just be doing it in another state, wearing another jersey. Noah Dobson seemingly will get his full-time role and chance to be a regular as early as next season.
The reasons why are not that hard to follow once you cut through all the jargon. With a flat cap suffocating the league this year and next, and some awful contracts signed by previous general manager Garth Snow and Lamoriello himself, the Islanders were rightfully concerned about an arbitration award hanging over Toews, with Mathew Barzal and Pulock still major cornerstone pieces to sign to new contracts.
Lamoriello explained as much to the media on a conference call post-trade.
“We did give up a good player to acquire assets. It takes two to make any transaction. Devon was the individual involved, that’s the best way to put it. Not that he was a player targeted. The cap crunch played a significant role. This is just how everything came out,” he said.
According to Capfriendly, the Islanders have just under $9 million to spend. Contracts are due to Barzal and Pulock, with smaller deals likely for guys like Matt Martin, who seemingly has a gentleman's hand-shake agreement in place, and Andy Greene. Word from various sources seem to indicate trading Nick Leddy has cooled as an option, with Johnny Boychuk ($6 million) and Leo Komarov ($3 million) now rumored to be the latest names to surface within the always changing mill.
Could that potentially allow the Islanders to still get better within a free agent market that appears down to Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov as potential difference makers? If they are amicable to signing one-year deals, which Hoffman is reported as being agreeable to, maybe, but time is wasting, and those players have gotten offers from other teams already that they are contemplating. Each day is a missed opportunity to add scoring to a team that desperately needs it. Make no mistake, they reached the East Final, sure, but they also lost to a team that was better than them, by a considerable margin, six-game series being damned.
Next season, things don’t get any easier for Islanders fans, who could be forced to say goodbye to some long-standing fan favorites. Another flat cap awaits, as well as an expansion draft and more free agents. Casey Cizikas is an unrestricted free agent and Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle, Adam Pelech, and Ilya Sorokin will be restricted free agents. In addition to Cizikas, it would not surprise me to see Lamoriello have to dangle Josh Bailey or Jordan Eberle in deals to make things work.
Could the necessary offensive jolt come from within – Oliver Wahlstrom, Keiffer Bellows, Simon Holmstrom, or, dare I say, Josh Ho-Sang? The Islanders have not been known for developing terrific offensive talent out of Bridgeport in recent memory, so there must remain some skepticism and concern from the fan base on how effective those players can be, especially in a Barry Trotz system.
At the end of the day, the Islanders, out of necessity created by themselves, were forced to move a mobile, left-handed, two-way defenseman for a minimal return just to shed themselves an additional salary. Nobody is comparing him to Denis Potvin; that’s not what anyone is saying, but what they are saying is the Islanders aren’t better than they were yesterday.
Let’s see what else Lamoriello has up his sleeve before determining if they are any better tomorrow. Or the next day.
Follow Andy Graziano on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN