The New York Islanders enter a very critical offseason after their run to their first Eastern Conference Final in 27 years. After years of being at the bottom of the league and spending very little money on free agents, the Islanders have transitioned into a contender with a very talented roster. While they could not win a fifth Stanley Cup, New York has a couple of holes they need to fill.
The issue is general manager Lou Lamoriello only has roughly $8.9 million of cap space. With Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews all restricted free agents, the Islanders will have very little cap room to sign these players and bring in a legitimate goal scorer. Here are a few different scenarios Lamoriello could follow to free up some cap space and still improve his team.
Trade Nick Leddy or Johnny Boychuk
Back in 2014, New York acquired Nick Leddy in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks and then received Jonny Boychuk on the same day. Both players started their Islander careers very strong, but have suffered injuries and seen their roles diminish to a third defensive pairing and limited time playing on the man-advantage. While their production has dropped, there should still be plenty of interest in two former Stanley Cup-winning defensemen.
A year after the Islanders acquired Leddy, they signed him to a seven-year contract worth $38.5 million. He received $4 million in his first year and has seen his yearly salary increase by $500,000 every year. Leddy is set to receive $6.5 million this season and then $7 million in his final season, but only has a $5.5 million cap hit each year.
If the Islanders can find a team, they would undoubtedly be willing to make a move and save some money. There are currently three NHL teams with over $30 million of cap space in the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and Detroit Red Wings. These three teams are in a rebuild mode, but could certainly use a veteran defenseman. New York’s asking price would likely not be very high as it once was for Leddy, as he could find himself in a similar trade like 2014.
The same could be said about Boychuk, who will be turning 37 years old in January. He has seen his role diminish and was a scratch for most of the postseason. Boychuk only has two years left on his contract and will earn a base salary of $1.25 million with a signing bonus of $2.75 million, while carrying a cap hit of $6 million this season. However, he has a modified no-trade clause and only has eight teams he is willing to accept a trade for.
The Islanders would likely be interested in getting a draft pick if they could have traded away some of their top picks in the next couple of years (This doesn’t seem entirely clear) like the New York Rangers did in their trade of Marc Staal. The Islanders have tremendous depth at defense. Noah Dobson was a healthy scratch most of the season and is very capable of filling in right away.
If any general manager could get the Islanders out of Andrew Ladd’s contract, it would be Lamoriello. He already tried to experiment at the trade deadline with a swap of Ladd and Zach Parise. Despite Ladd having a modified no-trade clause and Parise a no-movement clause, both players reportedly waived them. It would give the Islanders a better player, but Parise has a $7.5 million cap hit compared to Ladd’s $5.5 million.
Ladd has become a forgotten man on Long Island as he suffered an injury last season and spent most of 2020 in the AHL. He brings a wealth of experience, and a team could take a chance on a motivated player as he has three years left on his contract. However, he has only scored 39 goals as an Islander, cannot stay healthy, and does not have a role on the current team after being a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
Let the Rookies Play
With a bizarre offseason ahead, the Islanders could also stay quiet and stick with a similar team as last season and some money. By 2022, if the Islanders don’t move any of their players, they will have the contracts of Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck, Leo Komarov, Nick Leddy, and Johnny Boychuk come off the books. Obviously, the team will have to pay Barzal his big contract, but if they can create some cap room, 2022 also features a year of many talented unrestricted free agents in Johnny Gaudreau, Aleksander Barkov, and Patrice Bergeron.
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For the opening spots, the Islanders have three first-round draft picks in Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Simon Holmstrom, waiting for their chance in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. They also have a former first-round pick in Michael Dal Colle trying to prove himself in the NHL, and can add a depth piece to the 2020-21 roster and still be competitive without spending much this year.
Regardless of what the Islanders do, they have put themselves in an excellent spot after back-to-back trips to the playoffs. They have a core group of players and could just use that one piece to put them over the top.