The New York Islanders have very little financial room to work with this offseason, but their priority must be to re-sign their restricted free agents. In a perfect world, general manager Lou Lamoriello would also sign a goal scorer who could help them reach the Stanley Cup. Still, Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech, and Ilya Sorokin need to be locked up before the Islanders start to look elsewhere.
Beauvillier provided Islander fans with one of the greatest moments in franchise history in the last game at the Coliseum with an overtime winner in Game 6 of their match-up against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The former first-round pick has blossomed into a star and provides New York with speed, skill, and intelligence. Beauvillier, who is only 24 years old, has already played in 333 NHL games, and he’s scored at least 15 goals in all but his rookie season.
He is instrumental to the Islanders, playing on the second line with Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. Mathew Barzal gets most of the attention on the first line, but the trio of Beauvillier, Nelson, and Bailey generally get to play against second and third pairings. Beauvillier is also dominant in overtime and can play effectively on both the power play and the penalty kill.
However, the Islanders only have $5.7 million in cap space, but will have more money to work with after putting Johnny Boychuk on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Barzal was able to sign as a restricted free agent last season for three years and $21 million. Beauvillier may not surpass Barzal’s contract, but he will cost the Islanders close to $5 million a year before he gets his big pay-day.
Pelech has been arguably the most important player on the team in the last two playoffs. He arrived with little hype as a prospect but established himself as one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. He has tremendous chemistry with his defensive partner, Ryan Pulock, a restricted free agent in 2020, who was brought back.
Pelech usually plays against the opposition’s top lines and most dangerous players, including Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Brayden Point in the postseason. However, head coach Barry Trotz likes to roll out all three of his pairings. Losing a player like Pelech would change the top pair and force the team’s other defensemen to play minutes they are not accustomed to.
Pelech has also started to show off his offensive side. He had a goal in the postseason on a terrific shot against the Boston Bruins. In 303 NHL games, he has 75 points. Expect him to receive a contract similar to Pulock, who was signed to a $10 million deal for two years in 2020.
The Islanders waited years for Ilya Sorokin to come over and play in the NHL. Other than his first start against the New York Rangers, he has lived up to the hype and played well in the first round of the postseason. The team has room to experiment in net next season, but it starts with bringing Sorokin back. He is capable of being a starter as well as rotating with another goalie.
With how well Semyon Varlamov played, the Islanders could move him to help create more space. He still has two years left on his deal at $5 million annually. This would force New York to then sign another goaltender, but would cost them much less money.
Sorokin continued to improve all last season, especially his rebound control. He played tremendously at home and finished the season with a 13-6-3 record, a goals-against average of 2.17, and a save percentage of .918. He then added four wins in the postseason and should see a raise after receiving $2 million in his first season in the NHL.
After two terrific seasons, 2021-22 will be a big year for the Islanders. There will be changes, including losing a player in the expansion draft. It will take some creative work, but if the organization can bring back these three restricted free agents, the team will be competitive again next season.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.