The rumor mill continues to swirl with trade possibilities ever since Vladimir Tarasenko requested a trade from the St. Louis Blues. However, for New York Islanders general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello the path of least resistance might be easiest when looking to add to his current roster while keeping the core of his team intact.
We played armchair GM via CapFriendly.com to figure out the Islanders roster for the 2021-22 season after a bunch of mock trades, but it seems more Lamoriello’s style to take care of his own free agents, and then plug in the pieces via unrestricted free agency. Looking at the free agents in the summer of 2021, let’s play armchair GM once more, and see who the Islanders can realistically target to round out their roster for the 2021-22 season.
This one seems obvious, right? The Islanders want Kyle Palmieri, and Palmieri wants the Islanders.
“Going into the offseason you don’t really know what the future is going to bring, but like I said, I loved every second here,” Palmieri reiterated. “To have that opportunity to be a part of a team like this, it was an incredible opportunity for me and I’d love to keep that going.”
The problem here is, will Lamoriello be able to find the cap space, and will Palmieri be willing to wait for that to happen with the likelihood he’ll be in high demand if he makes it to free agency.
Well, the expansion draft might help with this issue. It only makes sense for Lamoriello to strike a deal with the Seattle Kraken that forces them to take Jordan Eberle if Palmieri comes back to the Islanders at a lower cap hit than Eberle. If that happens, Lamoriello has some more wiggle room to bring back his restricted free agents (RFA), and Casey Cizikas who likely also wants to remain an Islander, and is also about to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Thus, Seattle takes Eberle, and Palmieri returns on a four-year, $16 million contract.
If the offseason works out this way, it’s good news for the Islanders who get to keep their core. As previously stated in our mock trades article, “long-term contracts may be a theme this summer when trying to navigate the flat cap…”
That being said, Anthony Beauvillier signs for five years, $17.5 million; Adam Pelech for six years, $33 million; Ilya Sorokin for five years, $18.75 million; and Cizikas for five years, $12.5 million. Then your smaller deals fall into place to round out the roster, as Anatoly Golyshev signs for one year, $1 million; Andy Greene for one year at league minimum; and Kieffer Bellows hangs around on a two-year, $1.8 million deal. Keep that in mind the rest of the way.
So, how did the cap space come about?
Lamoriello works out a deal with Seattle. The Islanders send them a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and the Kraken have to draft Eberle. That relieves $5.5 million in cap space.
Whether you loved him or hated him, Leo Komarov was an effective Islander. His contract, however, is less than ideal, and a draft-pick-starved Arizona Coyotes will absorb his contract at the cost of his cap hit. The Buffalo Sabres, who are now headed for an extended rebuild, will need some veteran players for their locker room. Thomas Hickey deserves a chance to play in the NHL again, and Buffalo could do that for him.
The Colorado Avalanche may be poised for a big splash this offseason, which could force Brandon Saad out of the equation.
A shell of his former self, the one-time 30-goal scorer is still an effective player who can contribute in a bottom-six role. Saad has five seasons with 20-plus goals scored and could prove to be incredibly effective next to the likes of J.G. Pageau. He plays a good 200-foot game and knows how to find the back of the net. After playing on three teams in seven seasons, a continued decline in points over the past three seasons, and just 24 points in the 2020-21 season, he should be happy to secure a three-year, $9 million contract with the Islanders knowing he’ll have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.
What might excite Islander fans the most about this is Oliver Wahlstrom receives a promotion to the first line, playing with Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.
How we got here:
There was no deal struck here between Seattle and New York. The Kraken wanted Eberle, and the Islanders received the cap space. Komarov is a prime candidate to be traded and goes to the Detroit Red Wings at the cost of a second-round pick in 2022, and Hickey goes to Arizona where they’ll surely be looking for any draft picks they can possibly get.
It was puzzling when the Montreal Canadiens scratched Tomas Tatar for most of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is going into his age-31 season, but is still an incredibly effective forward, having scored 57 goals in his last three seasons.
Advanced analytics love Tatar, and being a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs may have lowered his free-agent value. Getting as close as the Habs did to winning a Cup, Tatar should want to return to the latter half of a playoff run, and do so on a roster where he will contribute. A four-year, $16 million deal like Palmieri’s could lure Tatar to the Islanders. Once again, Wahlstrom plays top-line minutes, but Tatar could easily flip roles and play next to Barzal and Lee, too, if necessary. The six-time, 20-plus goal scorer could be a sneaky add for Lamoriello, who fits the Islanders’ style of play well.
For how we got here, refer to the Brandon Saad trade tree, it works for both players.
What?! Who?! How?! Let’s first address the obvious here. This is not going to happen. Alex Ovechkin is almost definitely staying in Washington, and it’s extremely likely his deal is already done and in the drawer.
That being said, Ovechkin loves Barry Trotz, having won a Cup with him when Trotz was head coach in Washington. If he’s playing anywhere else aside from the KHL (where he’s stated he wants to end his career), it’s under Trotz who happens to be the Islanders head coach (in case you forgot). This is a situation where Lamoriello is mortgaging the future, but is more than 100 percent all-in.
How we got here:
It’s not much different from the previous trade scenarios, except one. Have we mentioned Arizona is draft pick hungry? Because they are, and with plenty of cap space, they can absorb the contract of Andrew Ladd. So they do, and maybe it takes an extra piece than just the first-round pick in 2022. So, for argument’s sake, we’ll be flexible and say another pick, or a prospect can also go to Arizona to take on Ladd’s contract. But, we’re talking about Lamoriello here, he knows how to get what he wants.
Again, this is Lamoriello knowing he’s mortgaging the future but is more than 100 percent all-in. He’s able to convince Ovechkin to leave Washington to play with Barzal who can help him in his Wayne Gretzky chase, under his favorite head coach, while competing for another Stanley Cup in a brand-new arena in Belmont at the UBS Arena. There are definitely worse situations he could come into. The likelihood that this happens is slim-to-none, but never say never. Ovechkin would absolutely be the final piece to the puzzle for the Islanders, and it’s okay to fantasize every once in a while.
Lamoriello has a difficult summer ahead of him navigating the cap space he has to retain his own free agents. When all said and done, he will need to plug in a few more spots on the roster, and there is likely some underrated value (for those not named Ovechkin) on the market that the Islanders can realistically afford. The picture will become a little clearer with the expansion draft just 10 days away, kickstarting what will be a busy summer for Lamoriello and the Islanders.
Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts!
James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.