The complete radio silence from the New York Islanders, and many of the remaining restricted or unrestricted free agent players linked to the Islanders, shouldn’t surprise anyone. A long-running joke in the NHL is general manager Lou Lamoriello operates under strict rules when signing and trading for players. Though this is a bit concerning, if not aggravating for Islander fans, there isn’t a lot to worry about — yet.
Islander beat writer and journalist at The Athletic, Arthur Staple, recently penned a piece articulating — to the best of his knowledge — where the Islanders are in terms of signing and plans. While much of this isn’t the absolute truth, Staple has been good at getting into the head of Lamoriello and making educated guesses. One of those guesses could lead to a beloved Islander heading out of town as Lamoriello solidifies his roster. The question is, which one?
Roster Questions Remain
Islander fans may have a lot of contradictory feelings after reading Staple’s update. James Nichols, my co-host at the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, and I experienced that first hand when we discussed the possibility of RFA Anthony Beauvillier being traded to acquire a defenseman. Many were vehemently against the idea, and as we said multiple times on the show and on Twitter, it’s not our favorite plan either. Beauvillier just turned 24 in June and has been a mainstay within the Islanders’ forward group for quite some time, even with some streaky play. And that’s nothing to say about the fact that he’s very close to their franchise center, Mathew Barzal. As it turns out, however, we were half right, at least when considering Staple’s article.
Our argument was — if the team is still in on Vladimir Tarasenko, which signs are pointing to, there simply isn’t room in the forward group, and Beauvillier has a lot of value. Perhaps he could be dealt in a “hockey trade” for Vince Dunn, one of 17 players who filed for arbitration. On the other hand, Staple pointed out that Josh Bailey, who was left unprotected in the expansion draft, could be the odd man out here. This, almost assuredly, left a good portion of Isles fans fairly happy, even as Bailey continues his rise through the games played list for the franchise and has been a much better player during the latter part of his career.
Staple mentions moving Bailey’s $5 million contract for the next three years would help open enough room to bring in Tarasenko, who the Islanders are believed to still be in on, and alleviate a crowded forward group.
[Bringing in Tarasenko] would leave the Isles with a crowded group of wingers. One too many, in fact, if [Zach] Parise and [Kyle] Palmieri are already in the mix. Which means that the Islanders would have to move someone out. The most obvious candidate is not Beauvillier, who is only one of three under-25 locks for next season’s roster if he stays. It’s Josh Bailey, who was left exposed in the expansion draft that resulted in Jordan Eberle going to Seattle.From, “Islanders free agency: What’s going on with Lou Lamoriello and the Isles?,” The Athletic, 7/30/2021
Having said that, if Bailey, a lightning rod for criticism during his career, isn’t the one who’s moved to open up room within the forward group, and Lamoriello decides to point his attention towards the back end, Staple offers a few scenarios to solidify their second pair on defense, though it means going with the aforementioned disliked scenario moving Beauvillier.
Perhaps Lamoriello’s ambitions aim a little higher on defense. Could they pry Mattias Ekholm out of Nashville, where the Predators have juggled their core quite a bit this offseason? Would Hampus Lindholm be the short-term choice in conversations with the Ducks, or is there a package to entice Anaheim to move Cam Fowler? Those deals likely would require Beauvillier rather than Bailey as the main player involved, if they’ve happened at all.From, “Islanders free agency: What’s going on with Lou Lamoriello and the Isles?,” The Athletic, 7/30/2021
So perhaps James and I could be correct after all? This is an interesting thought on the situation and opens up a fairly large can of worms. Can the Islanders avoid losing either Bailey or Beauvillier? Staple suggested UFA Ryan Murray, but he signed with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday evening, limiting the Islanders’ free agent pool even more.
If Lamoriello can move out one or both of Leo Komarov or Thomas Hickey, both on the last year of their deals, it helps the team create a favorable trade scenario, possibly with one of the defensive trade targets Staple mentioned above. Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz, has proven he can do a lot with just about anyone. But if, for example, an Ekholm can be had out of a rebuilding Nashville Predators team for Bailey and perhaps a sweetener, the Islanders can kill two birds with one stone.
It seems no matter what Lamoriello is trying to do, his strategy is continued silence. On a recent episode of 31 Thoughts the Podcast, Elliotte Friedman said his theory is “Lou Lamoriello is trying to trade for someone, and he doesn’t want anyone to know how much cap room he does or doesn’t have.” When you stop to think about it, it’s hard to argue against this strategy, especially when you consider the state of the league and the cap crunch everyone is maneuvering within. There’s a reason he’s been the GM of the Year for two straight seasons. We’ll all be waiting to see what he’s able to pull off.
Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts!
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.