The New York Islanders need scoring help this offseason. And while a lot of attention — and rightfully so — is getting placed on the big fish in the unrestricted free agent (UFA) market, we may also want to acknowledge some of the under-the-radar free-agent forward-options general manager Lou Lamoriello could be considering too. This may be a good exercise, especially if a player like Anthony Beauvillier, who may be a forward Lamoriello is willing to depart with, is part of a trade to upgrade the Islanders’ defense.
It’s possible Lamoriello is able to sign two top-line wingers for Mathew Barzal to play with in an attempt to give the offense a jolt. It would require some other cap-heavy players, such as Josh Bailey, to be moved as well, but it would be a worthwhile adjustment to provide the top-six with more balanced and consistent scoring. The team’s strategy would also require an adjustment from newly named head coach Lane Lambert, who will need to reinvent themselves after a down season. Here are three options Lamoriello may consider to help get the team back into contention.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason, one of which is to keep Ilya Mikheyev or allow him to walk to free agency. The 27-year-old left-shot winger had the best season of his short three-season NHL career in 2021-22, scoring 21 goals and 32 points, a huge jump in production from the two prior seasons. Mikheyev also had four points in seven playoff games during the Leafs’ first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Mikheyev would help make up for Beauvillier’s departure if he’s traded at a slightly lower cap hit while trending in the right direction. At all strengths, he ended the season with over a 55 percent Corsi and Fenwick, which would have ranked first on the Islanders last season. He’s a quick skater with a great shot release that could help improve the Islanders’ power play as well.
“He’s so fast and explosive. He gets a step on you, he’s gone,” Auston Matthews said during this past season. “When he comes down on you with that much speed, as a goalie it’s hard to anticipate what he’s gonna do.” Luke Fox of Sportsnet estimates Mikheyev’s value “should fall between $4 million and $5 million annually,” and that considering he requested a trade from Toronto last summer, it’s unclear if he’d sign in Toronto — let alone a team-friendly deal.
Another 20-goal scorer, Vincent Trocheck was a force with the Carolina Hurricanes during their 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. In addition to his 21 goals and 51 points in 81 games during the regular season, he scored six goals and 10 points in 14 playoff games. His underlying numbers were also really impressive, as they have been throughout his career with the Florida Panthers and Hurricanes; he’s averaged near a 60 percent Corsi and Fenwick the last two seasons.
The 28, soon-to-be 29-year-old forward is coming off a contract worth $4.75 million per season against the cap. It’s unclear if the former 30-goal scorer is looking for much of a raise heading into his age-29 season. But even at $5 million a season, it would be tough to fit him under the cap without some of the aforementioned cap moves by Lamoriello. However, it would be worth adding a player like Trocheck to the lineup to add some offensive prowess to the top-six, especially a veteran with good playoff experience. The Hurricanes have said they’re looking to keep Trocheck on their roster next season, but it’s unclear if they’ll have the cap room.
2022 Stanley Cup winner Valeri Nichushkin would be an amazing addition to the Islanders’ top line based on his performance in the regular and post-season. The 27-year-old left-handed shot heading into free agency after the last year of his deal paying $2.5 million, and a career year and what he added to the Colorado Avalanche’s run to their Stanley Cup victory was enormous. Nine goals and 15 points in 20 cames is tremendous and will likely mean a decent pay raise for Nichushkin.
The only downside could be Nichushkin regressing to his average shooting percentage, which hovered between 10 and 11 percent in his best seasons. This past season’s 13.89 percent is likely unsustainable unless playing alongside Mathew Barzal and any one of the prized free agents can keep it at that level. Coming off of a Cup win, the Avalanche will likely want to keep their team as intact as possible heading into next season, but cap gymnastics are required by every team, and the top teams aren’t immune.
The Islanders’ struggling offense will need a couple of players to add to the lineup, and Lamoriello will have to use a strategy of no rock left unturned heading into 2022 NHL free agency. From the prized UFAs to those under the radar, an infusion of talent in the top-six is imperative for the Islanders next season.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.