Graziano: Will Islanders Go All-In Or Bet Conservatively?

Free Agency, Trade Market Are About To Heat Up

Andy Graziano
June 06, 2019 - 4:06 pm
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It’s been a rather interesting week, hasn’t it?

With less than three weeks until the NHL draft June 21 in beautiful Vancouver, teams, and players for that matter, are starting to posture and show their cards. The draft is always an event where, with all general managers gathered in one spot, trade talk is rampant, and sometimes we get a blockbuster.

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The trade market is impossible to predict with any accuracy, as availability and pricing changes almost hourly. Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is said to be a "very interested" participant in the pomp and circumstance surrounding this year’s event, which will take us right into the free agency talking period on June 24, culminating with the official opening of the signing period on July 1.

In their first season under coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders authored a remarkable turnaround defensively, becoming the first team in 100 years to go from worst to first in goals against. Allowing only 191 goals (2.33 per game), Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss will be two unlikely names placed on the William Jennings Trophy. However, that doesn’t fix an offense that only produced 223 goals, better than only 10 teams in the entire league. New York had 40 games in which they scored 0-2 goals, going 10-27-3.

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Anders Lee and his 152 goals in 425 games (29.3 average) is still unsigned. Jordan Eberle and his 209 in 666 (25.7 average) is unsigned as well. For a team looking to add and not subtract offense, those could be big blows and very difficult to replace. Now, there is no indication that Lee won’t be signed, but there is some concern as to the dispute over terms that has led the negotiations to drag on as long as they have.

The other consideration for keeping things in-house and locking up your own is that Lamoriello has just shy of $28 million in cap space to play with, and Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews will need new deals next summer. (Pulock and Toews have arbitration rights.) The players to choose from, both from an unrestricted free agent and trade perspective, are not going to come cheap. Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner (provided he doesn’t agree to terms shortly with Buffalo) are all going to cost north of $8.5 million, with Panarin possibly hitting $10.5 million. Erik Karlsson, with his injury issues, is going to want more money than P.K Subban’s $9 million AAV.

On the trade front, Jacob Trouba wants to get paid. Taylor Hall, granted he’s even available after reports had him not willing to stay in New Jersey past next summer, will get his, too. Patrick Laine? Yeah, open up the vault. Not to mention, you are going to lose valuable and sizable assets to acquire players of that ilk in the first place. Noah Dobson, Oliver Wahlstrom, Keiffer Bellows, Pulock and Toews would all be first on teams' wish lists in any big trade, I’d imagine. Would Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas even want to deal with the Islanders in a need-for-need scenario such as Nick Leddy for Nazem Kadri?

I’m staying away from the offer sheet front (Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, William Karlsson), not because I don’t think those players tremendously help the Islanders, but because of the unlikeliness of deals like that happening in real life. Even though Lamoriello doesn’t care much for what others think or do, I see this as the most remote route he travels. At the end of the day, it’s just not good business.

All things considered, everyone knows what the Islanders need. We all know they require more competent scoring forwards to blend with the passers they currently have in Barzal, Josh Bailey and others. It’s a slippery slope between what you need and what you are willing to pay to get it, and Lamoriello is going to have to navigate that terrain carefully is all I’m suggesting.

Sources have indicated to WFAN.com that Lamoriello wants to be very aggressive this summer in continuing to shape the Islanders into perennial playoff contenders. After losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the playoffs, it’s felt that a true opportunity was missed and is not sitting well. He has already accepted the blame for not being able to execute at the trade deadline, with his fixation on Mark Stone flaming out in the final hour with apparently no logical alternatives at the ready.

Where does that all lead when push comes to shove in a few short weeks? Does Lamoriello push all his chips to the middle of the table? Or does he hold back, cash out and deposit his money back into his bank account?

Everyone’s waiting to find out.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN.