For New York Islander fans, this year’s free agent frenzy, which opens up on July 1, may seem a little too familiar. Another Islanders captain, this time Anders Lee, is on the brink of leaving Long Island as tensions continue to rise on the eve of free agency. But this year is different as contract negotiations have been ongoing, unlike with John Tavares just a year ago.
For Lee and the Islanders, the sticking point appears to be the term, with reports saying the former is looking for seven to eight years while the Islanders are looking for five to six. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is continuing to play hardball with Lee’s camp while staying in the hunt for unrestricted free agent (UFA) prizes Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Will Lee have the patience to wait things out as the Islanders seek an upgrade or will he take advantage of the market? A lot of questions remain, with time ticking for the Islanders.
Lee’s Frustration Growing with Isles
Since April, Lamoriello has said he plans to re-sign all four of the Islanders pending UFAs. Three months later, only two of the four, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle, are re-signed, leaving Lee and goaltender Robin Lehner without contracts with less than a day left until free agency begins. Both Lee and Lehner have expressed they want to return, but it appears Lee is growing increasingly unhappy with the situation and how it’s unfolded.
“I didn’t think we’d get to this point,” Lee told NHL.com. “The process hasn’t … I haven’t enjoyed it, but it is what it is. We want to make sure that everything is done right and it’s right for both of us, for both sides. I hope it works out. They’re working on it right now.”
This sounds a lot like the situation with Frans Nielsen. In an interview with the New York Times in Dec. 2016, Nielsen mentioned his commitment to the Islanders heading into free agency earlier that year.
“That was the first time I ever thought about trying something else,” he said. “Before that, I did not want to leave. I never even thought about it” (from ‘Frans Nielsen, One of Three Puzzling Departures, Returns to Face the Islanders’, The New York Times – 12/3/16).
It won’t be a good look for the Islanders if they lose their captain two years in a row, especially with Lee’s expressed interest in staying. This may be overshadowed if the reason is Panarin coming to town.
Will Lehner Return to Long Island?
The situation with Lehner is a bit more tricky than with Lee. The goalie market is a little bit tighter with very few teams able to afford Lehner and a few other options available at a much cheaper rate. That leaves this situation a bit more fluid as Lamoriello chases Bobrovsky. However, with the Florida Panthers trading James Reimer to the Carolina Hurricanes for Scott Darling (to be bought out) and a sixth-round pick in 2020 (originally the Buffalo Sabres), along with the recent retirement of Roberto Luongo, the Panthers are in a good position to sign Bobrovsky. The Panthers also have over $25 million in cap space to work with.
If Bobrovsky does go to Florida and Panarin is as linked to the goaltender as many believe he is, the Islanders may be in trouble if they strike out. There would be time to speak with Lehner and get a deal finalized, though reports indicate that negotiations are at a standstill similar to those with Lee.
“Lamoriello appeared to be holding firm on a shorter deal for under $5 million while, as our Craig Custance noted earlier this week, anything under $5 million per was likely a non-starter for Lehner’s camp” (from ‘Still far apart in contract talks with the Islanders, Robin Lehner’s future appears to be elsewhere’, The Athletic – 6/27/19).
Lamoriello Has a Plan
After their unprecedented season, some Islanders fans are in “wait and see mode” with Lamoriello, who has gained the trust of the Islander faithful even with things looking unclear heading into July 1. Unfortunately, that’s just about all fans can do considering he rarely lets information slip out to reporters. However, with Lou’s experience, it’s hard to believe he’s flying by the seat of his pants.
This doesn’t make it any easier for fans as other teams continue to make space for potential free agent signings. It appears Islanders fans will get their clarity after 12:00 pm tomorrow. How different will the team look? Continue to check back with us at The Hockey Writers to keep up with the Islanders, and every team’s, free agent moves.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.