As the offseason trudges on into August, the New York Islanders still have not made a move in free agency to impact their roster. The trade for Alexander Romanov at the draft solved one of their biggest questions, but many remain, including who will be their scoring threat. The team lost out on Johnny Gaudreau — although it is unclear how involved they were — and did not land Matthew Tkachuk. Now they have a chance at Nazem Kadri or a bevy of restricted free agents (RFAs) to improve their offense. However, the question is the same as last year: why has there been radio silence out of the Islanders’ camp?
Noah Dobson, the Islanders’ first-round selection from 2018, is an RFA at 22 years old. He put together a nice season in 2021-22, playing primarily with Zdeno Chara at full strength and filling in nicely on the power play when Ryan Pulock was injured. Dobson still has four seasons remaining until he becomes an unrestricted free agent, so management could offer him a bridge deal to get him to that big payday after his seventh season. Regardless of what the contract might be, no one knows if it’s been signed.
On the 32 Thoughts Podcast last week, Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman said he had been told by teams that “they think it is very possible Noah Dobson has got a contract extension done. Is it true? I don’t know. Is it out of the realm of possibility? No.” He then went on to joke that the NFL season would be underway before any of us found out the direction the Islanders are heading in this offseason; if last season was any indicator, he is not far off. New York has $11.1 million in cap space, with Dobson, Romanov, and Keiffer Bellows needing contracts for next season.
Islanders’ 2021 Offseason
Just as a reminder, last summer, the lack of announcements from Lou Lamoriello was even crazier than this. The Islanders had Anthony Beauvillier, Ilya Sorokin, and Adam Pelech as RFAs, while Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri were UFAs. Those are five players who were extremely important in the team’s back-to-back deep playoff runs, four of which went into September without their deals being made public. Pelech’s 8-year extension was announced during the summer, but they divulged the other four in one tweet on Sept. 1 instead of the original free agency day of July 28.
Because of this delay, the Islanders lost out on many of the viable options at left defense, leaving them with no other option than Chara, who was a below-replacement level player for most of the season. There was no reason given as to why the Islanders decided to wait until September, but the speculation is they signed the deals well before that. Palmieri and Cizikas were eligible to speak with any team about a contract, but there was never a peep about them leaving. Why was this Lamoriello’s tactic last year, and why has he carried it over into this year?
Islanders’ 2022 Offseason
As I mentioned at the top, there are still a few solid free agent options available for trade. There are also tradeable assets available from teams looking to rebuild, such as JT Miller of the Vancouver Canucks. Last offseason, many speculated that the Islanders were trying to hide their dire cap situation from the St Louis Blues in an effort to trade for Vladimir Taresenko. He could also get dealt, but the price was too high for them last year, and it has only gone up since then.
Whether or not that was Lamoriello’s reason, it does seem to make a little bit of sense. The Islanders did not want to give up Beauvillier — who had just scored the biggest goal for the franchise in 40 years — in a trade for Tarasenko, so why make Beauvillier’s cap hit public knowledge if it does not need to be? This offseason, this tactic doesn’t make much sense.
The Islanders have only been tied to four players this offseason: Romanov, Kadri, Miller, and Gaudreau. Of the Kadri situation, Friedman said, “the Islanders are in it.” Colorado might also jump back in, but they won’t want to move Samuel Girard to do so. Teams are running out of cap space, and if John Klingberg’s contract is any indication, Kadri might be running out of patience. After not striking gold early in free agency, Klingberg signed a one-year “prove it” deal in Anaheim. Kadri might be reaching the same fate as more and more teams fill their center positions.
As for Miller, he carries a $5.25 million cap hit for this season before he hits free agency; Friedman said that Vancouver and the Islanders were in discussions at the draft.
Friedman claimed on the podcast that the Islanders wanted to discuss a contract extension with Miller before trading for him, which the Canucks declined. That was a must for Lamoriello, who has said multiple times that he is not a fan of rentals and makes trades to keep his players. The talks fell through, and the Islanders ended up landing Romanov in exchange for the 13th pick. But this does not mean that Miller will not be an Islander. It would be very wise for Vancouver to recoup assets for him, and if they liked the Islanders’ offer from the draft, maybe it could still happen.
Why Is Lamoriello Doing This?
Why does Lamoriello do what he does? It’s a question hockey fans and reporters have been asking themselves for decades. Last year, the Islanders had five players to re-sign and very little cap space, making a Tarasenko trade nearly impossible, and hiding their cap hit made sense as a negotiating tactic.
This offseason, it absolutely does not make sense. Miller’s cap hit is significantly lower — $7 million for Tarasenko compared to Miller’s $5.25 million — and Tarasenko came with two years of control as opposed to one. Right now, they can afford him, and the money that goes his way is entirely up to the Islanders and contingent on what they do next offseason. Management might have to move Semyon Varlamov, but they would be better off if they did.
There is no good reason for them to drag out this offseason. New York might not land Miller and fans will still be without their big fish. The Islanders have left their two young defensemen — Dobson and Romanov — hanging without contracts as we reach week three of free agency. A deal for Miller would be great, but it is not a reason to drop the ball in free agency.