With unrestricted free agency seemingly come and gone for the New York Islanders after failing to land Artemi Panarin and players like Micheal Ferland getting a four-year contract, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello likely turns his attention now to the trade market to attempt to improve an offense that, frankly, needs improving.
New York currently sits with a little below $10 million in available cap space with Michael Dal Colle and Anthony Beauvillier still needing contracts as restricted free agents, making any offer sheet fantasy just that… a fantasy. The belief around the league is Lamoriello did consider making a push for Toronto’s Mitch Marner after Brayden Point pledged his allegiance to the Tampa Bay Lightning and, at least at present, will not even consider signing anywhere else.
The four first-round draft picks are not even a worry from many perspectives to land a player with the talent and youthful age of Marner, who electrified the league last season playing on a line with John Tavares and Zach Hyman. But cap flexibility is as the Islanders find themselves in a situation where Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews all require new deals next summer, albeit as restricted free agents (Pulock and Toews are arbitration-eligible).
With Barry Trotz admitting that consistent goal scoring was their biggest need following their second-round exit from the NHL playoffs at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, Lamoriello did keep Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee in the fold, doing well on the first two and doing what he had to do, extending term, on the third.
All that means, in the here and now, is that the Islanders are a little behind the status quo, minus a third-line center, with a new goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, who Mitch Korn will attempt to work miracles with, as he did with Robin Lehner last season. If you do not believe in the fact that New York overachieved with ridiculous ‘puck luck’ (as their PDO proved), you are not feeling so bad. If you are of the opposite belief, then you already know that asking for lightning to strike twice in the same location is a risky proposition.
Last season, New York scored two goals or less a whopping 40 times, almost half of their regular-season schedule (getting shut out five times). With the trade market intensely fluid, making it almost impossible to pin down, there have been some whispers as to who might be available to help. Nick Leddy ($5.5 AAV for three more years) and Thomas Hickey ($2.5 for three more years) have been most mentioned in trade rumors surrounding the team, as the team appears to be counting on Noah Dobson taking a big leap in training camp towards earning one of the 23-roster spots available on opening night. Sebastian Aho also could be serviceable in a six or seven role, filling any gap that trading Hickey would create.
The most obvious potential target is Nikita Gusev, a diminutive but electrifying Russian winger who was drafted in 2012 by the Lightning, but is now the property of the Vegas Golden Knights. Gusev put up 82 points in 62 KHL games this past season, showing a pass-first mentality — not exactly what the Islanders need — but who could be a boon to the power play and second-line scoring punch if Brock Nelson finally decides he wants to be a trigger man. The price for Gusev is said to be a second-round pick and later pick or lower-tier prospect, plus a $4 million AAV for the player himself.
Maybe Lamoriello turns his attention out west to the Calgary Flames and tries to get them to eat some salary owed to 31-year old James Neal, who could bring his 270 goals in 766 games and sandpaper grit to New York. Jason Zucker has been rumored to be on the block for the better part of the past 15 months and Vancouver could be looking to trade Brandon Sutter, although both of those players would fill the third-line role more than provide an immediate offensive punch. Chris Kreider is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy and Loui Eriksson comes with too much age and too much salary to be a realistic option.
Unless something shakes loose between now and training camp, it seems as if the pickings are slim for the Islanders to acquire what they need for the 2019-20 season. But, if I remember correctly, Lamoriello did say in his initial press conference after being hired it would take time and patience would be required.
Only problem there is, after you have a season that New York just had, luck or not, patience is not something easily located within a fan base hungry and deserving of more.