Graziano: Expect An Interesting Week From Islanders

After Quiet Draft Weekend, Lamoriello Turns To Free Agency, Trade Market For Upgrades

Andy Graziano
June 24, 2019 - 12:07 pm
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There were no deals to be made for the Islanders at this past weekend's NHL draft, or many teams for that matter, except for the Devils, who make a challenging Metropolitan Division even stronger with the addition of P.K.Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators. That trade came after they selected Jack Hughes with the No. 1 selection, followed by the Rangers’ no-brainer pick of Kaapo Kakko.

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So while much of the rest of the division either gets stronger or remains strong, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will have to look to free agency and future trades to improve an offense that was questionable at best last season.

The NHL, ridiculously, waited until Saturday to officially announce the salary cap for the upcoming season -- set at $81.5 million instead of the assumed $83 million. Could it have been Lamoriello just didn’t have anything enticing enough on the table with the aforementioned uncertainty? Absolutely. With Nick Leddy on the trade block, as well as Thomas Hickey, Lamoriello must be praying that things begin to loosen up with the financial mark now set. 

Free agents Anders Lee and Robin Lehner have made it to the talking period, and one of the two will take full advantage as the Islanders’ boss continues to play a game of chicken with their agents. It is believed, though not confirmed, that the Islanders are in the five-year range with Lee. His agent, Neil Sheehy, is said to be seeking seven or the max eight. He will speak with other teams, possibly has already. Montreal has been said to be one of the teams to set up a meeting this week.

Islanders president Lou Lamoriello chats with coach Barry Trotz during the NHL draft on June 22, 2019, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The situation with Lehner remains more curious. In a year when the goaltender came out with his personal battle with addiction and a potentially debilitating mental disorder, Lehner shined, winning the Masterton Trophy for perseverance to hockey and being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the league’s best goaltender (won by Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy). 

At the awards ceremony in Las Vegas last week, Lehner mentioned his illness might be an issue in contract negotiations. He seemingly gave up a ton of leverage in telling Newsday's Andrew Gross in an article published Monday that he will not speak to other teams (for the moment) and remains committed to staying with the team that supported him in fighting his personal demons. It could be possible there is a gentleman’s agreement between the two to see if Lamoriello commits big money to a free agent or trade acquisition.

With all that being said, expect it to be an interesting week, but one clouded in mystery and silence. Fans should all know by now that Lamoriello works on "Lou time" and keeps things close to the chest with little to no leaks to the media. One moment, it's dead quiet and you think things are going a certain way, then bam! So be on guard for when the shoe does finally drop.

The darling of unrestricted free agency, Artemi Panarin, will meet with the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche. Lamoriello is said to want to make a major splash to improve his offense, so expect the Islanders to be involved, though to what degree remains unknown. He will face stiff competition from the Panthers with new head coach Joel Quenneville and no state income tax in Florida. Also, watch out for the Rangers, for whom it's been said Panarin has a desire to play. Matt Duchene is also out there and his agent, Pat Brisson, will be narrowing down the teams that will speak to his client starting Monday.

As far as the draft is concerned, the Islanders went off the board and selected Simon Holmstrom from the Swedish Elite League, raising many eyebrows among the community. Holmstrom is said to be a good prospect, one that could have gone in the top 20 if he hadn't battled injuries. Many scouts, however, have expressed concern over his skating, which has become the thing you have to possess in the "new" NHL. 

With the Islanders woefully thin at the center position, it is curious that they passed on Philip Tomasino (who went 24th to Nashville), Connor McMichael (25th to Washington) and Ryan Suzuki (28th to Carolina), who were all there for the taking and would have been a "safer" choice. If you argue that you always draft "the best available player" over a major organizational need, an opinion I respect but disagree with, the fact remains Holmstrom was not even the "BAP" at that spot over the three mentioned who went after him.

Either way, agree or disagree, the Islanders won’t know what they have in Holmstrom for about three years anyway, so we can revisit the argument then and debate it more. But, know this, among the scouting community and many writers who spend their time analyzing the new crop of prospects coming into the league for a living, it was a questionable draft for the majority.

Perhaps Lamoriello is more concerned with the present than the future, and with good reason. You have to figure out a way to get coach Barry Trotz more offense. You might even be losing your leading goal scorer, Lee, to free agency. You have to figure out your goaltending situation, seemingly an annual ritual. 

If he can, you forget this draft quickly and move forward with anticipation and excitement over the upcoming 2019-20 season.

If he can’t, the Islanders could end up being one-hit wonders.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN.