Islanders’ Forward Target Options Narrowed Before Deadline

The 2022 NHL Draft has come and gone, but not without a move from New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. It didn’t take long for attention to shift from dissecting the trade – the Islanders’ 13th overall pick for restricted free agent (RFA) defenseman Alexander Romanov (22 years old) – to attempting to figure out how he could improve the offense. In the days following the draft, more players’ names have been bandied about as potential RFA and unrestricted free agents (UFAs), the key word being potential. However, when free agency hits each summer, Islanders fans hear Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” playing in the background.

Johnny Gaudreau

With Filip Forsberg off the board, a lot of eyes shifted to the situation with Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames. This isn’t necessarily a “new” target for the Islanders, but the figurative target definitely seems to be a bit clearer for the Islanders in the last day or so. Reports say Gaudreau has been sitting with a long-term extension to stay in Calgary, but as of Monday evening, there didn’t appear to be any movement regarding staying put in Alberta (from “Are Johnny Gaudreau and the Islanders a free agency match? A look at how it could happen,” The Athletic, 7/11/2022). Even with a reported $9.5 million extension in front of him, no decision has been made. Without one, rumors began to swirl about the teams that would be in the mix if Gaudreau was available come noon on Wednesday, which include the Islanders.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising considering Lamoriello swung for the fences when Artemi Panarin was available in the summer of 2019. Ultimately, he went to the New York Rangers, which was a tough blow to the Islanders. They did make it to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, but as they head into another round of free agency this summer needing to upgrade their roster to make it back, Gaudreau’s increasing availability is giving many some deja vu.

Vladimir Tarasenko

The Islanders and Vladimir Tarasenko have been linked for nearly a year, if not more, so he isn’t a “new” target either, nor is he a UFA at the moment. However, since he requested a trade in July 2021, rumors linked the Islanders as having an interest in the Russian forward, and for good reason. One of the hangups a year ago, as it is now, is his $7.5 million cap hit for the upcoming season, bringing him to UFA status at the season’s end. There’s no denying he would help improve the Islanders’ offense immediately. Even at 30, he’s still a force at finding the back of the net.

Related: Islanders’ Lamoriello Not Done After Romanov Trade

The question for the Islanders is, how do they make the cap work? Well, one solution is a three-team trade, which has been popular among general managers in getting a player’s cap hit down. For Lamoriello, an additional hurdle comes in the trade itself. What can he offer the St. Louis Blues?

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

If the Blues are interested in bringing back David Perron, they need to clear money off the books, and this seems like a straightforward way to do that. However, it makes a deal for the Islanders a little complicated. Is a 2023 first-round pick on the table, lengthening the Islanders’ streak without a first-rounder to three years? What prospect would Lamoriello make available? It sounds like the Islanders are still interested, but it’ll take a pretty big lift to make it happen.

What should be good news to Islanders fans is that Lamoriello likely won’t make the deal until he knows he can get Tarasenko re-signed, meaning whatever is dealt in a move won’t be for naught. So if a trade doesn’t go through, it would be easy to consider that he couldn’t get that part of the deal done to retain Tarasenko after this season.

David Perron

If Tarasenko isn’t moved, David Perron (34 years old) could land in the Islanders’ laps on Wednesday afternoon if Lamoriello thinks he fits with the team’s plans and needs. Certainly not the 1A winger they were looking for, but he is one of the more underrated forwards in the league, potting 20-plus goals a season well into his 30s.

Perron is a right-hand shot coming off of a deal that paid him $4 million a season. Could he get a raise? Maybe slightly, but given his age, the only thing that would drive up the average annual value on a deal would be a short-term signing. Do the Islanders want to be in the Perron business for more than two years? That’s tricky; one second a 34-year-old player is unstoppable, the next they’re a shell of their former selves. In win-now mode, the Islanders can ill afford a swing and a miss.

We’re getting down to a day or less to the opening of free agency depending on when you’re reading this. The Islanders need to make a move, and can’t settle for another under-the-radar signing to help the team overachieve. This is a big offseason for the team and Lamoriello, and patience is slowly running out.

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