Andy Graziano's Islanders Notes: Slow Summer As General Managers Wait

Andy Graziano
July 26, 2019 - 12:43 pm
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The summer has gotten off to a slow start around the NHL. After Artemi Panarin signed with the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens assisted the Carolina Hurricanes in getting Sebastian Aho signed, there has not been much action with an unrestricted market weak on top-level talent. 

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The restricted market is another story, however, with stars such as Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Brock Boeser, Charlie McAvoy, Mikko Rantanen and Matthew Tkachuk still awaiting deals -- not to mention second-tier players including Kyle Connor, Brandon Carlo and Zach Werenski.

The bigger issue is the reluctance of general managers to rock the boat by extending offer sheets to the aforementioned players. Compensation is huge, especially for deals above $8 million of average annual value, which is two first-round picks, a second-round pick and a third-round pick. Above $10.148 million and you’re handing away your next four first-round selections.

Back in 1997, the Rangers attempted to pry future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic from the Colorado Avalanche. They offered a three-year deal for $21 million, only to have the Avalanche match. It caused ripple effects that Neil Smith, the Rangers' general manager at the time, spoke about as it relates to this year’s crop of restricted free agents.

As Smith told told the New York Post's Larry Brooks earlier in the week: “I don’t want to say, ‘I knew,’ but I knew. I knew exactly what would happen, even while everyone in ownership was telling me I was wrong. I knew it wouldn’t work. Even if it looks like you can’t afford to match, no NHL team can afford not to match. It would be choosing money over competing. If you do that, how are you going to sell your product? No team can do that.” 

Smith continued: “Those rumors about (NHL Commissioner) Gary (Bettman) blackballing me from the league because of Sakic weren’t true. But there was a lot of resentment against the Rangers. I don’t regret what I did, I gave them my best advice that it wouldn’t work, but I regret that ownership made us do that.”

As ruthless and cunning as Islanders president Lou Lamoriello has been rumored to be, the above comments by Smith are part of the reason no offer sheet has been extended to Marner, which would delight the fan-base but put the Islanders in a predicament of "definitely" having to make a trade rather than using the luxury of time and circumstance to find the right trade. Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock (arbitration eligible) and Devon Toews (arbitration eligible) are RFAs next season, and revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say. Not to mention what karma might have to say about it.

Related: Graziano: Islanders Likely To Drive Trade Route To Improve Punch

The lack of RFAs signing now is what could be holding up the trade market for Lamoriello, as he dangles Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey to the league, still having to find the right contracts for Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle. Once those contracts are set and teams know exactly where they stand concerning the league upper limit of $81.5 million is when they can start to narrow down which players they might have to offer on the trade market to get under the threshold. 

For now, the Islanders wait. Lamoriello waits. And the fans wait.

BELMONT GROUNDBREAKING CLOSE?

New NYRA president David O’Rourke was on WMHT over the weekend and says at the 14:40 mark he believes groundbreaking at Belmont Park, site of the Islanders' proposed new arena, could happen in the next two weeks. This was, of course, prior to news coming out that due to two "minor clerical errors" in the final environmental report, the window for public comments, which obviously don’t mean anything at the end of the day, has been extended nine days to Aug. 1, pushing back the timeline for getting "shovels in the ground."

There is still strong belief from many familiar with the project that it will indeed break ground in August and be ready for the 2021-22 NHL season. 

ISLES INQUIRED ABOUT GUSEV

Nikita Gusev’s agent, Yuri Nikolaev, spoke out on Monday regarding his client’s status with the Vegas Golden Knights, explaining that the player would prefer to re-sign in Sin City as opposed to being traded somewhere else. That, in addition to his $4 million AAV ask, is what is holding up a trade of the talented, but unproven (at the NHL level), winger. 

The Islanders, from multiple sources, did inquire with Vegas president George McPhee, but he is not rushing into anything just yet, saying: “We’ll see what develops. We’ll work on it. We will accommodate him one way or another, either here or with another club.”  

LATEST BETTING ODDS

The Islanders have officially been entered by SuperBook USA in Las Vegas with odds for the upcoming 2019-20 season. 

New York has an over/under points total of 94.5 (they finished last year with 103 points) and odds to win it all at 30-1. Keep in mind most point totals are down from the actual finish of the 2018-19 standings as Tampa Bay comes in as league leaders with 108.5 (128 last year), Washington at 97.5 (104) and Boston 100.5 (107). Colorado jumps out as the team with the largest projected increase (90 to 100.5). 

It makes sense from an Islanders angle to go into this season from a betting perspective with a wary eye. New York was bolstered by a tremendously high PDO for most of the season and got unbelievable (one in a hundred years) goaltending from Robin Lehner (now in Chicago) and Thomas Greiss. To date, they are still short a third-line center, have not added any goal scoring to a team that struggled to score (40 games of two or fewer goals) plus have a new 31-year old goaltender (Semyon Varlamov).

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN.