Are the Islanders Players for Any Big Free Agents?

As of 12:00 PM today, NHL free agency began. In the hours since then, there have already been a number of signings. Despite this, there is still an impressive list of free agents out there and the New York Islanders, with problems over their own, should be doing their homework. After a disappointing season, the Isles should be looking to improve with new head coach Lane Lambert.

Although they won’t be able to break the bank completely, the Isles could still snag some players if they play their cards right. So the question is: are they players for any big free agents? Who are they most likely to sign? Who are they definitely out on? How lucrative of a team are they?

Current Situation

The Islanders find themselves in a bit of a transition period. After three playoff appearances in four years with former head coach Barry Trotz, the Isles decided to part ways with him. Despite last year’s underperformance not being entirely Trotz’s fault, they decided to upgrade assistant coach Lane Lambert to take his position.

Additionally, the Isles are looking to improve on the ice. With the departure of the defense-heavy Trotz, the Isles could use some proven goalscorers to help this struggling offense. To highlight this, the Isles ranked towards the top of the league last season in goals-against but towards the bottom of the league in goals-for. Brock Nelson was the only player to score more than 30 goals; for a team looking to make the playoffs, that can’t happen.

The only problem is that Islanders don’t have a tremendous amount of room to work with. They rank 16th in the league in cap space with $11,185,038. Even though that’s better than a lot of other teams, it still limits the Isles–especially when they already have some business to take care of. First and foremost, Noah Dobson and the recently-acquired Alexander Romanov will have to have their contracts worked out before the Islanders can move forward. Considering those contracts will bring the cap space down even more, the Isles may have to make some moves if they want to have a chance at signing any free agents.

Addition by Subtraction

To have a chance at signing top free agents, the Islanders will have to add by subtracting. In other words, they’ll have to move some players around to clear up cap space.

There are some players that come to mind when it comes to making trades. Josh Bailey, the 32-year-old, could be a valuable veteran asset for a number of other teams. He had 14 goals and 30 assists last year playing mostly on the second line. Despite his long-standing tenure with the Islanders (he has yet to play for a different team), he could be traded to clear up cap space. Additionally, the Isles could make a shocking trade of 25-year-old Anthony Beauvillier. Even though he has shown signs of skill, his growth seems to have faltered a bit. He had 12 goals and 22 assists this past season, marking the fourth straight season of fewer than 20 goals. He has first-line potential but a change of scenery could benefit him and help increase production.

Elsewhere, the Islanders could trade Semyon Varlamov. There were rumors of him being traded at the deadline this past season but the Isles decided to stay put. I think the Isles could reconsider trading him, as he is a sturdy, veteran goalie with tons of playoff experience. With Ilya Sorokin their primary goalie, the Isles could sign someone like Braden Holtby to play back-up or go with someone from within the organization.

Future Outlook

Speaking of the organization, it’s currently in a transition phase–which doesn’t make it the most appealing destination. Sure, the Islanders made it to the playoffs in three of their last five seasons but all three of those were with Barry Trotz. Trotz is no longer there and even though Lane Lambert worked extensively under him, there should still be a learning period. Additionally, the Isles are known for a more pesky, defensive-heavy approach that may not appeal to everyone. Again, that could change under Lambert but only time will tell.

On the flip side, the Isles have a lot of young talent mixed with some good veterans. Mat Barzal, Ilya Sorokin, Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson and now Alexander Romanov all make up a good core with Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock leading them. They have a passionate fanbase and a new, beautiful home in UBS Arena. Even though Trotz is gone, there is still a good chance they could return to the playoffs soon.

All-in-all, even if the money isn’t there, Long Island is still an intriguing option for available free agents.

Who’s Left?

After a flurry of moves today, some of the biggest names are already off the board. One of the biggest names, Johnny Gaudreau, decided not to re-sign with the Calgary Flames and instead decided on a shocking move to Columbus for seven years and $68.25 million. He was one of the Isles’ primary targets, so it’s a shame to see him sign elsewhere.

Frank Vatrano, another solid option on the wing, left the Rangers to sign for the Anaheim Ducks. Darcy Kuemper, the Stanley Cup-winning goalie, left Colorado for Washington. Claude Giroux, the seasoned veteran, left the Florida Panthers for the Ottawa Senators. Check this link for the full list of free agents, both signed and unsigned so far.

So who’s left for the Islanders? One of the big remaining free agents is Nazem Kadri, who also just won the Stanley Cup with Colorado. He had 28 goals and 59 assists last season, meaning he could improve the Isles’ offense. Another player who could help on offense is Patrice Bergeron who, despite being 36 years old, still had 25 goals and 40 assists last season. Phil Kessel is another solid option although he is mostly an assist-maker, having notched 44 this past season. Lastly, if the Isles wanted a little bit of a reunion, they could go for Ryan Strome of the Rangers–whom they drafted 5th overall in the 2011 draft.

Conclusion

With Noah Dobson and the newly-acquired Alexander Romanov, the Islanders don’t have a ton of money to work with. However, if they play their cards right with some smart trades, they could clear up enough space to snag a free agent or two. They’ll have to hurry though; if today, the first day of free agency, was a sign of things to come then these free agents will be gone before the Isles know it.

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