In order to acquire a restricted free agent (RFA), the formula has to be perfect. A combination of an overachieving young player, a capped-out team, and an acquiring team desperate to fill a hole. General manager Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders can be that ever-important acquiring team for a few mid-tier RFAs this July. This year has a plethora of superstar RFAs, but they are most likely out of the Islanders’ price range. If Matthew Tkachuk and Kevin Fiala are too expensive, here are four more affordable players the Isles should target to improve their roster for the 2022 season. Before we get started, here’s a reminder of the RFA offer sheet compensation chart, courtesy of CapFriendly.
The 23-year-old forward finished a solid season in 2021-22 with 20 goals and 41 points in 81 games. With another seven points in 14 playoff games, Yamamoto has proven to be a solid young scorer on the wing that the Islanders could certainly use.
Edmonton has just over $7 million in cap space heading into the offseason, which is enough to keep Yamamoto on paper, but with Evander Kane needing a new deal, Mikko Koskinen leaving for Europe, and Jesse Pujliavari also reaching RFA status, that money will run out quickly. The Islanders could offer sheet him a $2 million AAV contract, which would send their third-rounder to Edmonton.
As nice as Yamamoto would be slotted in next to J.G Pageau on the wing, the Islanders’ true needs come on the back end. Both Noah Dobson and Robin Salo are RFAs, while Andy Greene, Zdeno Chara, and Sebastian Aho all can walk freely come July 13th. Sandin is a 22-year-old defenseman on the Toronto Maple Leafs who has ascended to one of the top positions in their pipeline. He chewed up almost 17 minutes per game with the big club this season and is in a position to take another step up in his fourth season next year.
Sandin is left-handed, which means he could be the perfect partner for Noah Dobson behind the Pelech-Pulock pair. All of that said, he is a top priority for Toronto this offseason, and there is not a lot of talent coming up behind him. This one is unlikely unless the Islanders — or another team — can outprice Toronto. Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and company have $7.84 million to spend this summer, but they currently do not have a starting goalie and have Ondrej Kase, Pierre Engvall, and Liljegren as fellow RFAs. Sandin would be in the same range as Yamamoto at about 2 to 2.5 million dollars for 2-3 years on an offer sheet. The worst-case scenario for New York is Sandin asking to buy out all of his remaining RFA years, which would amount to a five-year contract. That would likely bring the AAV up and move Sandin out of their price range.
As Mike Fink wrote last week, the Calgary defenseman is a prime suspect to sign an offer sheet this summer. Kylington had a breakout season in 2021-22, putting up 31 points on the offensive end and chewing up over 18 minutes a game for one of the league’s best defense cores.
Kylington just turned 25 last month and, similarly to Sandin, would slot very nicely next to Dobson as a lefty. Calgary has $27 million to spend, but a majority of that will be tied up in trying to retain two of the best wingers in the league from last year in Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. Kylington only has two years left until hitting UFA, which is the perfect situation for the Isles. They could sign him to a two-year deal this offseason at a reasonable price and not be on the hook for his big payday at 27. No matter where he goes, there is a very slim chance Kylington signs anything longer than a two-year deal as he only has one year of top-flight play on his résumé. That could play directly in favor of the Islanders.
Middleton spent the 2021-22 season between San Jose and Minnesota, switching uniforms at the trade deadline, and performed well for both squads. Middleton is a large defenseman, measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds. If the Islanders are making an attempt to replace Zdeno Chara, Middleton might be the guy to do it.
He is physical off the puck, plays a solid defensive game, and once again is left-handed. Middleton and Dobson could bring back that early Boychuk-Leddy magic if paired together, and there isn’t an Islander fan out there who doesn’t want to see that potential from No. 8. Middleton would be the cheapest option and is coming from Minnesota, which has $6.5 million to spend with Kevin Fiala to re-sign and a goaltending problem to solve. Middleton could be in that tier of offer sheets — under $1.386 million — that requires no compensation, but even if he is not, it will be well worth it for New York.
The Islanders will need to replace the minutes they are losing on the defensive end, assuming that Chara and Greene are both gone. The UFA market might get out of their price range, as it did last year, but the RFA market is littered with guys who are looking to step into second pair minutes. These are not the big names that will get people flocking to their computers to buy jerseys, like a Gaudreau or a Jakob Chychrun, but each of these four players would be great fits in depth roles in the Isles’ lineup.
My name is Chris Hennessy, welcome to my page! I am a recent graduate of Fordham University and WFUV where I covered the Islanders for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons. The experience of being in the Coliseum and UBS ignited my love for storytelling, especially about my favorite team.