Islanders’ Defensive Future Following Dobson & Romanov Deals

Finally, Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov have signed their restricted free agent (RFA) contracts for the 2022-23 season. In classic Lou Lamoriello fashion, these deals were announced over a month after the free agency window opened and right after Nazem Kadri picked Calgary over New York. Once the options for high-priced free agents were gone, the New York Islanders announced the signings of their RFAs. Kieffer Bellows signed a $1.2 million deal for one season with RFA rights for next season. He will need to prove his place on the team next season to get a longer-term contract next year. The other two deals signed were the future defensive partners in Romanov and Dobson. Both contracts lead to a short-term, win-now future for the team.

Noah Dobson

The 2018 first-round selection signed a three-year deal worth $4 million annually. When the contract expires, he will still be a restricted free agent at the age of 25 ready to sign a massive long-term deal. Last year he took the step up that the organization needed him to take. After losing both Devon Toews and Nick Leddy in back-to-back offseasons, the Islanders needed a puck-moving defenseman and decided to trust Dobson in that role. After a shaky start to the season, he stepped up in a big way to finish with 50 points in 80 games.

Noah Dobson New York Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He played a majority of his minutes with Zdeno Chara as his left-side defenseman last year and will be getting a major upgrade in Romanov for this season. Lamoriello said in his press conference that Chara and Andy Greene are not options for the blue line at this time, so the second pairing of these two players is locked in.

The price on this contract is fair at $4 million per season as it sets him up for a massive raise coming out of the contract. Three seasons from now, the Islanders’ championship window will, in all likelihood, be closed. By that time, the salary cap will have broken through the COVID-caused pause and players like Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck will be off the books. Dobson will be due for a big raise and the Islanders will be able to give it to him at that time.

Alexander Romanov

The Russian defenseman was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens on draft day in exchange for the 13th-overall pick. Instead of drafting an 18-year-old, left-handed defenseman, the Islanders traded for a 22-year-old. He was an RFA, and as the Canadiens attempt to rip it down to the studs, it was a great trade for both sides. Romanov also signed a three-year deal but for an annual average value of $2.5 million. He is a year behind Dobson in his trajectory, as he has not had the season that Dobson did last year as a professional. If this defensive pair begins to flourish together, a total of $6.5 million for the next three seasons will be a great value.

Romanov will be the Chara replacement and before he even steps on the ice, it is an upgrade. The issue with Chara and Greene last season was that everyone, including the players themselves, knew that they were not the long-term solutions. Romanov can be a great solution to play with Dobson for the long run.

By adding Romanov, the Islanders have done what they failed to do in the prior two offseasons in replacing Devon Toews and Nick Leddy. Both defensemen were traded away due to salary cap issues in back-to-back offseasons. This left the Islanders with a lack of left-handed defensemen and power-play quarterbacks. Dobson stepped up to fill the power-play spot, but now they add Romanov to step in as a lefty and solidify their top four. No matter which way you shake it, Chara is not a top-four defenseman despite playing that role last year. It was one of the reasons for the Islanders’ downfall in 2021-22 and they have corrected that heading into the 2022-23 season.

Offseason Takeaways

When all was said and done, the silence from the Islanders’ camp meant nothing once again. Last year, it was all about a Vladimir Tarasenko trade. This year, it was Johnny Gaudreau and Kadri that had Lamoriello keeping secrets. The truth of the matter is that everyone knew that the Islanders were going to be short on cap space and roster space if they had signed a free agent. The silence meant absolutely nothing. It never made sense from the beginning and Lamoriello failed once again to make it pay off.

The lone defensive spot that remains unfilled is Scott Mayfield’s partner on the third pair. Lamoriello said in his press conference that they would prefer to fill that spot in-house. That leaves Robin Salo, Sebastian Aho, and Samuel Bolduc as the most realistic options to fill that spot full-time. Bode Wilde could also be added to that list if he has gotten the COVID-19 vaccination or the Islanders have changed their rules.

Zdeno Chara New York Islanders
Zdeno Chara, New York Islanders (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

After the three signings, the Islanders have $3.485 million remaining under the salary cap. This includes Aho at $825,000 in that sixth defensive spot. If they do want to add another forward piece, Sonny Milano would be an affordable player that they could sign before trading away a player. They have 12 NHL-level forwards on the roster but could want to make a change, as Lamoriello said they would after the season.

With the top four on defense locked up for the next three seasons, the next item on Lamoriello’s checklist is a Mathew Barzal extension. He declined to comment on whether or not the conversations between the two camps have begun and seeing how last negotiations between these two went, Isles fans should be hoping they have begun.

Regardless of what the fans and analysts think of this very quiet offseason, it is clear that the management believes in the product they are putting out on the ice.

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