Offense is a major need for the Islanders this offseason, as Brock Nelson was the team’s only 30-goal scorer in 2021-22. In addition, Noah Dobson may need a new defensive partner, as Zdeno Chára is likely heading towards retirement.
Which options are the most realistic for the Isles? Who should the team sign in free agency? How will their additions improve the roster? With these questions in mind, let’s examine some of the possible items on the Islanders’ offseason wish list.
One of the hottest free agents on the market, Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg is in high demand league-wide. The 27-year-old just had his best season yet, tallying 42 goals and 42 assists for 84 points in 69 games.
The Islanders need goal-scorers to complement playmakers like Mathew Barzal, and Forsberg can fit that role. Last season, the Isles’ leaders on offense were Barzal and Brock Nelson, with both centers reaching 59 points in 73 and 72 games, respectively.
Forsberg’s most recent contract with the Predators was a six-year, $36 million deal that was signed in June 2016. After his incredible 2021-22 campaign, Forsberg is likely seeking a deal that gives him at least $8 million per season.
This could make it tough for the Islanders to sign him, as they have just $12 million in cap space at the moment. However, a deal with Forsberg could become a reality if Lamoriello makes the right roster moves elsewhere.
If signed, Forsberg could provide a much-needed jolt to a struggling offense.
Another headliner of this year’s free agency is Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau. In 82 games, Gaudreau reached several career highs; not only was 2021-22 Gaudreau’s first 40-goal season, but it was also his first 100-point season as well.
Additionally, Gaudreau was a marquee playoff performer for the Flames, totaling 11 assists and 14 points in 12 games during the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Over the course of his career, Gaudreau has been able to remain healthy, especially in his last four seasons. This kind of dependability would be a major benefit for the Islanders, a team that has had its fair share of injuries in recent years.
However, like Forsberg, Gaudreau will obviously come at a price, as his most recent contract with the Flames was for six years, $40.5 million. Gaudreau will probably be seeking a contract somewhere in the range of $8-9 million per year.
A Defensive Partner for Noah Dobson
Zdeno Chára did well at filling the roles of veteran mentor and defensive partner for Noah Dobson in 2021-22. Nevertheless, Chára is nearing the end of his career; taking this into account, the Isles should plan on finding someone younger to succeed Chára once he retires.
In free agency, there are a few options available, with one such player being the Flames’ Nikita Zadorov. In 74 games last season, Zadorov accumulated a plus-minus of 11, while also dealing 181 hits.
Zadorov’s cap hit in 2021-22 was $3.75 million, which would be an affordable deal for the Islanders. If the Isles want a physical defenseman, Zadorov is their guy.
In addition to Zadorov, Olli Määttä is another defenseman the Islanders should consider. With the Los Angeles Kings last season, Määttä achieved a plus-minus of 17 in 66 games.
While Määttä has thrived at delivering big hits, he has also been great at shot-blocking. Määttä has blocked 100+ shots in a season five times in his career, narrowly missing this mark in 2021-22 with 94 blocked shots.
Määttä’s cap hit would be fairly team-friendly, as the average annual value of his last contract was just over $4 million. His shot-blocking abilities and physicality would be very beneficial to the Isles.
Lou Lamoriello’s top priorities this offseason should be finding goal-scorers and younger defensemen. The team’s lack of high goal-scoring was a glaring concern last season, leading to their first missed postseason since 2018.
On top of this, the Islanders need to find a new defensive partner for Noah Dobson, as it is very possible that Zdeno Chára will retire. Younger defensemen are available in free agency, so Lamoriello has options there if he decides to search the market.
The free agency period begins July 13, which gives Lamoriello until next week to finalize his plans.