The New York Islanders’ offseason has been a disappointment thus far. With weeks passing since free agency started, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello has yet to make an impactful signing and has seen multiple players sign elsewhere. At this point, the options for the Islanders are limited, yet they still ideally would address the needs both on the forward unit and the defensive unit to help the team bounce back next season.
Despite limited players available, the Islanders can still make a splash with the skaters left on the market. Lamoriello can sign a player to not only turn around the offseason but turn an already good roster into one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Some of the players available are star-caliber that can single-handedly turn a roster around or put the Islanders over the top for next season. However, there are also some under-the-radar signings that Lamoriello could make that will significantly upgrade the roster.
Arguably the best player still available. Nazem Kadri had one of the best seasons of his career last year with the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche, scoring 28 goals and 59 assists in the regular season. Moreover, in only 16 games, Kadri scored seven goals and eight assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to play a pivotal role in the team’s success. Aside from the offensive production, the 31-year-old forward also provided strong defensive play at the center position to give the Avalanche a well-rounded forward unit.
Kadri is one of the more unique players on the market, and his status leaves a lot of teams in limbo for the rest of free agency. Ideally, his best fit is with the Avalanche, a team where he wasn’t asked to be the star on the talented roster and instead, simply elevate the top-six of the forward unit. However, the Avalanche are pressed against the salary cap and would only be able to offer Kadri a team-friendly contract. This leaves contending teams like the Islanders the ability to make a strong offer, possibly in the five-year range for over $5 million per year, to acquire the two-way forward.
While Kadri is one of the older players on the market and would come at a cost, signing him would pay off immensely for the Islanders. On the offensive end of the ice, he would primarily be a puck distributor, finding forwards like Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Oliver Wahlstrom for open shots, but the veteran forward could also find the back of the net himself if need be. Furthermore, Kadri would provide the Islanders with another two-way center who along with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, would give the team strong defensive play in the middle of the ice. Lamoriello would be making a risky signing but one that would be worth it for a team hoping to compete for the Stanley Cup next season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins managed to re-sign a handful of their star players this offseason, including forwards Bryan Rust Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, and defenseman Kris Letang. However, the signings come with a cost, and they will likely lose Evan Rodrigues, who had a breakout season, scoring 19 goals and 24 assists. Rodrigues was a reliable top-six forward for the Penguins and will field a strong offer in free agency as a result.
He wouldn’t put the Islanders’ offense over the top but would be a strong spark to the forward unit and a significant upgrade. Rodrigues in particular would add a good shot in the offensive zone to elevate the offense and possibly provide a scoring presence to the Mathew Barzal-led line, something the Islanders lacked last season.
Granted, Rodrigues could be the trap signing for any team this offseason after having a breakout season on a star-studded Penguins team. With Rodrigues only scoring 10 goals or more once in his career and 20 assists or more only twice, teams have understandably pumped the brakes on him. However, the Islanders could take a chance on the veteran forward and alongside the right skaters, see the signing pay off.
Ryan Murray has over the years become a journeyman defenseman, playing for three teams in his nine-year career. Murray played a limited role on the Avalanche defense last season and played only 37 games as he dealt with injuries. Despite the difficult season, the 28-year-old defenseman has proven throughout his career that he can elevate the team on the defensive end of the ice and add depth to the defensive unit.
The Islanders wouldn’t be adding a two-way defenseman if they sign Murray, but they would find the ideal pair for Scott Mayfield. Lamoriello already found the perfect pairing for Noah Dobson by acquiring Alexander Romanov, another young and great skating defenseman. However, Mayfield needs a left-side defenseman, and the veteran Murray would fit that role and round out the team’s defense.
Other Players the Islanders Can Sign
If Robin Salo isn’t ready at the NHL level, the Islanders will need to address the defense, particularly on the left side of the unit. Calvin de Haan struggled last season on the Chicago Blackhawks, but alongside Mayfield, could both have a great season, specifically with his ability to block shots and deliver hits in the defensive zone. Moreover, de Haan returning to the Islanders, the team he started his career with could be a great fit to help the team rebound next season.
Likewise, P.K. Subban could be a risky but intriguing addition to the Islanders’ defense. Yes, Subban at 33 years old isn’t the same skater as his younger self and the memory of Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene still lingers from last season with both older, slower defensemen turning into liabilities for the team. However, in a limited role and used correctly, the veteran defenseman could be a strong addition especially if the Islanders can provide him open shots from the blue line.
The Islanders’ offseason has been a quiet one to start free agency. However, there is still time and plenty of players available for Lamoriello to make a splash and add talent to the roster.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.