Lou Lamoriello showed his expertise through June and on day one of the NHL free agency period.
There have been several free agent exodus situations in the Islanders recent history. The first was a sort of a mutually agreed upon house cleaning in 2007. That basically led to the turning point drafts of 2008 and 2009. It had a decent ending, but it was definitely two years of pain, with more to follow.
The second of note was in 2015. After their first playoff series win in over two decades the Isles let key players walk. In that July the Islanders lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin. It took awhile for the team to figure out how to kill penalties without Nielsen and they fell too far to recover. That Fall, like the 2007 exodus cost a coach his job.
The third was last year when the team lost their captain, John Tavares, and Calvin deHaan to free agency. The only saving grace was that they were able to acquire GM Lou Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz and the core of Barry’s staff. If not it surely would have been back to the drawing board for ownership.
This year had all the earmarks of 2015. The Islanders could have easily lost their captain [again!], their most experienced center, their Vezina candidate goaltender, their top right handed shot wing, their third line center and some depth pieces that were instrumental in their playoff push.
Lou did not let that happen. He took care of business with the two most likely to leave in June. He got Nelson and Eberle done relatively early. He then made sure his roster had solid flexibility by signing Fritz, then Kuhnhackl. This was key to the future management of likely IR candidates Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck.
Casey Cizikas clearly showed he was ready to take on more responsibility, so it was easy to see why they let Val Filppula walk. He had a very good year, but the Isles were clearly looking to add more offence.
A Very Strange Path To Continuity
Lou held off on signing his captain, and his number one goaltender. It was my assumption that he wanted to keep some cap space available for bigger fish. If he landed the fish (Artemi Panarin), then he’d have to move some players to create space to sign those two. The team doesn’t want to announce that, but in the aftermath that seems to have been the plan.
Lou missed on Panarin. But even though Panarin accepted less to play for the Rangers, he was offered more than if the Isles weren’t in the fishing hole.
This all comes full circle when Lou signs Lee for more term and AAV than anybody thought was possible. He also let’s Robin Lehner walk to sign another client of Panarin’s agent, Semyon Varlamov. Paul Theofanous represents July 1st targets; Sergei Bobrovsky, Arteri Panarin and Semyon Varlamov. He also represents Islander prospect Ilya Sorokin.
Some will say the team is no better today, than it was yesterday. On paper maybe that’s true. Here’s what the roster looks like with none of the key RFA’s signed.
This roster plus Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang is certainly capable of continuing the Islanders’ successful run of 2018-19. That is something that wasn’t available to the teams in 2007 and 2015. There won’t be a dramatic coaching change in 2019, like there was in 2018.
In the immediate future there are more fish to fry. As of me writing this there are some UFA forwards available that could easily fit in the ~$8M of cap space retained on July 1st.
Brian Boyle is a possible target for a team looking for a bottom six center that can kill penalties and help with the power play.
If this is the last deal this summer the Islanders are still in very good shape. They have two 2018 draftees that may make their NHL debuts this year. Oliver Wahlstrom is headed to Bridgeport. Ollie can play 9 games in the NHL without having his first ELC year counting. We can count on those games being used to evaluate his readiness if he has a good camp.
Noah Dobson is in a similar “ELC Slide” situation. He has dominated the QMJHL, but at 19 he can’t go to the AHL. I can see the Islanders using his 9 games as well. They should have enough flexibility to utilize both early in the season if Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck are both still healing in October.
The best way to improve the roster might be through a series of trades. The exceptional play of Devon Toews and Adam Pelech have made Nick Leddy and/or Thomas Hickey expendable. Thomas Greiss, as a pending UFA is also expendable. In turn there are several teams that are scraping or above the cap ceiling that should be willing to shed some salary.
The possibilities for a roster upgrade are many. The best part of this is that we have a HOF GM running the show. He also should have confidence in the fact that his future HOF coach will be able to take the ingredients he provides and once again challenge for the Metro division. This because the New York Islanders did not take a step backwards today.