The 2020-21 NHL season wasn’t even over before the trade rumor-mill started churning. In fact, in the midst of Game 5 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night, the Twitterverse was hit with some breaking news of a certain superstar forward requesting a trade.
Jeremey Rutherford of The Athletic broke the news that St. Louis Blues sniper, Vladamir Tarasenko, had requested a trade. He has a full no-trade clause (NTC), but Rutherford mentioned that the New York Islanders are a possible team he’d waive his NTC for. “The Islanders, who were knocked out of this year’s playoffs by Tampa Bay, have been mentioned as a possible fit.” (from, ‘Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko requests a trade, per sources: Why he wants out, possible destinations and more,’ The Athletic, 07/07/2021)
Rutherford’s collegue, and Islanders writer for The Athletic, Arthur Staple, also conjured up a mock trade using CapFriendly’s Airmchair GM tool that saw Tarasenko to the Islanders. However, he also stated “Now, let’s get one thing straight: It’s hard to imagine [Lou] Lamoriello and Barry Trotz are angling to upend their team this much in the wake of back-to-back semifinal playoff runs,” and that’s probably fair to say. (from, ‘What the Islanders’ offseason could look like: Trades, veteran signings and the Kraken expansion draft,’ The Athletic, 07/06/2021)
Staple’s mock trade saw Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle traded to the Blues for Tarasenko and Vince Dunn. While it’s a realistic offer, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello already made it clear he was not going to trade any of his restricted free agents during exit interviews.
There are a few trade targets who Lamoriello could pursue that wouldn’t break up the core of the Islanders’ roster, and upgrade their ability to put pucks in the net. However, it’s going to take plenty of shuffling, and pulling off any of the following scenarios would be nothing short of a miracle.
Inspired by Staple, let’s see what we got with a few Armchair GM scenarios of our own.
If Tarasenko is 100 percent healthy, this is a lineup that could have seen the Islanders beat the Lightning in this year’s Game 7 of their semifinal rematch. It’s no secret that Tarasenko is a sniper. He has five consecutive seasons of 30-plus goals scored, one of which was a 40-goal season, and two over 35 goals in that span. Generally, he’s always had a good center to play with — more recently Brayden Schenn or Ryan O’Reilly. However, Tarasenko has never played with a center like Mathew Barzal who can create space and dish the way he can. Again, if Lamoriello can get a confirmed clean bill of health, he’s worth checking in on.
The Islanders’ restricted free agents return in this situation, too, but not without a bit of juggling. First priority is likely Adam Pelech, who in all situations from here on out will be signed to a six-year, $33 million deal. He’ll retrieve a little more than his defensive partner, Ryan Pulock, with some security in term seeing him well past potential unrestricted free agency. Beauvillier also remains with the Islanders on a six-year, $24 million deal — a raise from his previous bridge deal that see’s him through his age-30 season, while remaining in the Isles top-six.
Long-term contracts may be a theme this summer when trying to navigate the flat cap, which is why Ilya Sorokin is signed to a five-year, $18.75 million deal. Sorokin had a stellar rookie campaign, and it’s quite possible he could outplay that average annual value (AAV) in the span of this deal. This keeps his cost relatively low in net, while the Islanders secure their goaltending situation for the forseeable future, and lock up Sorokin until he’s 30 as well.
Casey Cizikas takes a hometown discount, and inks a four-year, $12 million deal, retaining his role on “the identity line.” The Islanders lose Nick Leddy to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. After seeing Mike Reilly play so well against the Islanders in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lamoriello inks him to a three-year, $6.75 million contract to slide into the top four on the blue line.
Smaller deals fall into place, as Anatoly Golyshev signs for two years, $2 million, Andy Greene signs for one-year at league minimum, and Michael Dal Colle signs on for two more years, $1.8 million. After all that, the Islanders are left with $1,511,666 in cap space.
So, where did all this cap room come from? Well:
The Detroit Red Wings have north of $48 million in cap space. They’d be happy to take high draft picks at the cost of Leo Komarov’s $3 million AAV. Andrew Ladd is shipped off finally, at the cost of yet another first-round pick in 2022, which the Arizona Coyotes are certainly looking for after forfeiting their own in 2021. Finally, Eberle and Kieffer Bellows are shipped to the Blues with a 2021 second-round pick attached. The Blues are certainly looking to get younger, and Bellows helps with that, while also bringing in a winger to replace Tarasenko and draft capital. It’s high-risk/high-reward, but the Isles get to keep Beauvillier in the process.
Let’s first clarify the contracts of the Islanders who are remaining. Cizikas signs for six years, keeping his AAV down, but it’s made up for security in the term. Beauvillier, Pelech, Greene, and Dal Colle (not pictured) all sign for the same as previously mentioned. Sorokin’s deal is a little different, receiving a six-year, $24 million contract. Again, long term trying to see him well past potential unrestricted free agency. Golyshev gets a one-year, $1.2 million contract.
Filip Forsberg comes to the Islanders going into his age-27 season. The two-time 30-goal scorer would be an excellent fit on the Islanders’ top line. His shoot-first mentality and speed complement Barzal well, and he’d flip spots with Anders Lee due to handedness purposes. Forsberg was at the top of the rumor mill heading into the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, but never wound up being traded. Now, the Nashville Predators have already started their offseason by moving forward Viktor Arvidsson, and Forsberg couldn’t contain expressing his displeasure.
The Predators are in an awkward spot, and maybe Forsberg wants out, or he’s just sad to lose a friend in the locker room.
An up-and-down year that saw them ultimately make the playoffs ended in the first round at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. A shake-up in Nashville could be coming, so Forsberg is worth circling back to this offseason after his name was circulating on the rumor mill just five months ago.
How we got here:
Similar to the previous trade scenario, the Red Wings eat Komarov’s cap, Bellows and Eberle are packaged with a pick, and Leddy is off to Seattle in the expansion draft with Alex Goligoski replacing him in the Islanders’ top four via free agency.
All this, and still Ladd’s cap hit remains on the Islanders’ books. Not too shabby given that the core is intact.
The contracts of returning Islanders remain the same as the contracts in the Tarasenko scenario. The difference here is that Leddy remains an Islander, and Sam Reinhart is the Islanders’ new first-line right wing. The Buffalo Sabres had an absolutely awful 2020-21 season. Failing to take a step forward after signing Taylor Hall to a one-year contract to play with Jack Eichel and then trading him mid-season, it seems the Sabres are poised to sell everything extending their rebuild.
So, how’d Reinhart get here?
Reinhart is going into his age-26 season, and already has six full seasons under his belt. In those six seasons, he has five 20-plus goal campaigns, two of which he scored 25. Last season, he led the Sabres with 25 goals, 40 points, eight points more than the next leading scorer, Victor Olofsson. His 25-goals in 54 games translates to roughly 38 goals in an 82-game season.
Yes, it’s a high cost for the Islanders sending the Sabres a top prospect in Bode Wilde, Kieffer Bellows, and a first-round pick. However, it gets Ladd’s contract off the books, paving the way for Reinhart to sign a five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Islanders. The Sabres can use the young promise, and the Islanders can use the goal scoring from Reinhart.
This scenario keeps the Islanders’ blue line in place, while upgrading the first line and most of the same faces return. Again, any of these scenarios would take the efforts of a miracle worker, but we are talking about Lamoriello here. If anyone can make it happen, it’s him. There are ways to upgrade the Islanders with an impact scorer, and retain their key players. Whether Lamoriello goes to this extent or not is up to him, but the options are certainly available.
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