The New York Islanders enter a crucial offseason after missing the playoffs and already firing head coach Barry Trotz. The firing was a sign that this offseason is going to have a lot of moves and deals made for a team that still has Stanley Cup aspirations despite the disappointing 2021-22 season.
The Islanders have salary cap space to work with this offseason and only four skaters on the roster are pending free agents. One of the few players the team has to re-sign is defenseman Noah Dobson, who is a pending restricted free agent (RFA) and had a breakout 2021-22 season, leading the defense in goals with 13 and assists with 38. It’s likely the Islanders will re-sign the young defenseman, but the question is what type of contract they will offer him.
The two types of deals that are options are a bridge deal and a long-term extension. A bridge deal would likely be a three-year, $10 million contract that will keep the Islanders well under the salary cap for this offseason and the next one as well. A long-term deal could be up to eight years and cost the team $8 million in average annual value (AAV) but could ultimately be a more beneficial deal for the roster in the upcoming seasons.
The Argument for a Bridge Deal
Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders’ front office understandably would prefer to give Dobson a short contract. The 22-year-old defenseman is still developing, and the team wants to see his ceiling before locking themselves into a long-term contract. Moreover, the Islanders are looking to leave themselves with as much salary cap room as possible, especially for this offseason where they’re looking to acquire a star forward like Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, or Kevin Fiala.
Dobson also could prefer a short-term deal before getting a max contract in a few years. At 22 years old, Dobson can bet on himself and not only emerge as an elite defenseman but ask for a greater contract in his prime, when a short-term deal would inevitably expire. Charlie McAvoy, for example, took a three-year deal after his entry-level contract expired but at 24 years old became one of the highest-paid defensemen in the NHL with an eight-year, $76 million contract.
Dobson receiving a three or four-year deal essentially pushes off the big pay day and at first glance benefits both the Islanders and the defenseman. However, the Islanders still should pursue a long-term deal despite the risk, especially based on what they’ve seen since he debuted in the 2019-20 season.
Dobson is an Essential Piece of the Islanders’ Roster
Dobson struggled in his previous two seasons with the Islanders, barely playing in the 2019-20 season and oftentimes missing assignments in the shorted 2020-21 season. However, even in the early years, it was clear that the team had found its next great puck handling defenseman, someone who could eventually take on the role of Devon Toews, who the team traded in the 2020 offseason.
The past season was a breakout year for Dobson, as he not only became the best scoring defenseman on the Islanders but also became a great skating defenseman. Dobson throughout the season proved he can effectively force turnovers in the defensive zone and control the puck, allowing the team to turn defense into instant offense. Playing alongside Zdeno Chara, the 22-year-old defenseman was often asked to carry the defense in the neutral zone and at the point along and play the role of the primary skating defenseman.
Dobson has become a key part of the Islanders roster. Considering the team is hoping to remain competitive, having Dobson under contract secures one of the pieces that the team can continue to add players to play alongside. Whether it’s finding a defensive pairing or a forward to benefit from the 22-year-old defenseman’s ability to make plays from the point, it’s easier for the Islanders to attract players to the team knowing one of their key players is locked into a long-term deal.
In addition, if the Islanders have to rebuild or retool the roster, Dobson is one of the players the team can build around. The team doesn’t have many young and talented players, and not many skaters that can be a part of the team for years to come. Considering Dobson is one of the few starters 25 years old or younger along with Mathew Barzal, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Anthony Beauvillier, it would be ideal for the Islanders to assure that he can be a part of the team for years to come.
Islanders Gain Value and Security
Paying a player $8 million in AAV seems like a nonstarter for value, especially in a hard cap league like the NHL. However, considering the value of some of the contracts that have been given to young talented defensemen around the league, the deal could be a bargain if the Islanders gave one to Dobson. Cale Makar was given a six-year, $54 million contract last offseason while Adam Fox was given a seven-year $66.5 million contract, and elite defensemen are going to only be paid more in the future. While the salary cap hasn’t gone up in the past few seasons, the cap is projected to rise by next season and as a result, talented players like Dobson will likely have a greater asking price in a few years.
In addition to possibly getting a bargain by giving Dobson a long-term deal now, the move would save the front office a lot of headaches moving forward. The Islanders would secure their young defenseman for the next seven or eight years and not have to worry about a departure in free agency for a prime defenseman. Ultimately, paying Dobson now and paying him for multiple years will keep a key player on the roster and allow the team to both remain competitive and secure a player that they can build around.
Islanders Keep Defensive Unit Intact
The Islanders already have Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock locked into long-term deals with both defensemen receiving eight-year contracts in the 2021 offseason. Pelech and Pulock have formed one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL over the past few years and with both players in their prime, the Islanders look to have a top pairing to lead the defense for the upcoming seasons. Signing Dobson would secure the Islanders three of their best defensemen and provide depth to the unit.
Moreover, with the Islanders searching for a new head coach, it’s likely the team is transitioning to a more offensive style of play. Trotz was a defensive-minded coach and helped turn the unit around but now the Islanders will likely adapt to the modern game with a faster and more offensive-minded team. With that in mind, keeping the defense together, especially the three best defensemen on the team is crucial for the team’s success in the upcoming seasons. Dobson not only is going to help the second pairing of the defense but help with the transition as well, being the best scoring defenseman on the roster.