The New York Islanders enter the offseason with a handful of needs, looking to upgrade the forward and defensive units in particular. One of the biggest issues for the Islanders last season was their offense — scoring only 2.79 goals per game — and a complete goal scorer can transform the unit and allow the team to rebound next season.
The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, went all in this season and finished the regular season with a 50-21-11, the best in the Pacific Division. The Flames looked like a Stanley Cup contender and made a handful moves at the trade deadline, including acquiring Tyler Toffoli and Calle Jarnkrok with hopes of a deep playoff run.
Unfortunately, the Flames fell short in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing to their Alberta rival Edmonton Oilers in five games in the Second Round. Now, they enter the offseason with a handful of pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. With the team likely going to be pressed against the salary cap, star scorer Johnny Gaudreau might test the market, and could ultimately end up signing with the Islanders.
The Offer it Will Take to Acquire Gaudreau
The Flames have the luxury of offering Gaudreau an eight-year contract, and the extra year of security will be intriguing for a scorer entering the prime of his career. While the Islanders can only offer him a seven-year deal, they have the ability to make the most expensive offer. For the first time since the 2019 offseason, the Islanders have the cap space to make a major signing, and Lou Lamoriello and the front office will look to make a splash as a result.
Gaudreau will likely ask for an $11 million per year type of deal, which can put a team up against the salary cap in the future. However, considering what other star scorers are earning, the deal would be worth it for both the players and the team. Connor McDavid is making $12.5 million per season, while Artemi Panarin signed a seven-year, $11.6 million per year contract with the New York Rangers in 2019.
Gaudreau is coming off an MVP caliber season. While he’s not a Hart Trophy finalist, the 28-year-old forward scored 40 goals and 75 assists and led the Flames offense. As a result, the Islanders, along with other teams looking to acquire him, will have to pay in the same price range as the other top scorers in the league, if not more.
Why Gaudreau Should Sign With The Islanders
The Flames finished the season with the best record in the Pacific Division. The Islanders, on the other hand, took a step back last season with a 37-35-10 record, missing the playoffs which resulted in head coach Barry Trotz being fired. At first glance, the Flames look like the ideal destination for a star scorer that is entering his prime, a team that is well-coached and has little to no weaknesses.
However, the Flames will look like a different team next season, especially considering the list of free agents on their roster. Along with Gaudreau, the front office has to address Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk on the forward unit — both players are restricted free agents — while trying to keep Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, and Oliver Kylington on the defensive unit. In all likelihood, the Flames reached their ceiling and will have to retool in the upcoming seasons after failing to make a Stanley Cup run.
The Islanders, meanwhile, have a team ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. They are looking to win now with a veteran-heavy roster. Gaudreau would join a team that reached the semifinal in consecutive seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21, carried by great defense and strong goaltending. Additionally, the team he’d be joining not only has the competitive experience, but new facilities in UBS Arena, which could be an intriguing draw for free agents around the NHL. For that reason, it’s an asset the Flames are eagerly trying to have approved (from ‘Calgary executives to mediate arena talks between city, Flames ownership’, Calgary Sun, May 25, 2022).
In addition to the team on the ice, Gaudreau is a New Jersey native, growing up in Carney’s Point. His hometown is in southern New Jersey, which is closer to the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, making both teams the optimal homecoming destination for the star scorer. However, both the Flyers and the Devils are rebuilding, which makes neither destination terribly intriguing, especially both for a player that is looking to win the Stanley Cup. Instead, the Islanders could be the team closest to home, and the best fit, making the signing an ideal one this offseason.
What Gaudreau Adds to The Offense
The first thing that stands out in the forward’s skill set is his speed. Gaudreau can create instant scoring chances on the rush, and find the back of the net by catching opposing defenses and goaltenders out of position. As a result, playing alongside Mathew Barzal would give the Islanders a great skating shift that could overwhelm any opposing defense in the NHL. In addition to speed, the Flames’ top scorer was a complete player in the offensive zone, setting up scoring chances to elevate the other skaters on the shift while also finding the back of the net with quick shots.
Moreover, Gaudreau can carry any forward shift he is on. When an offense is struggling and the team needs a goal, he can single-handedly create scoring chances. With the Flames, his ability was showcased in the First Round against the Dallas Stars, a series where the offense struggled, but he ended up scoring a team-leading eight points, including the Game 7 game-winning goal in overtime. The Islanders would be acquiring a forward that not only can elevate forwards like Barzal, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Brock Nelson, but also turn around an offense that hasn’t averaged more than three goals per game since the 2017-18 season.
Other Moves The Islanders Must Make To Acquire Gaudreau
The Islanders have enough salary cap space to make the big signing. The front office, however, has to re-sign 22-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson, who is a restricted free agent. Considering the breakout year he had, the Islanders might look to give him an expensive contract. The team will have to trade at least one or two players, and with a handful of players on the trading block, a move could likely happen to secure an elite player like Gaudreau.
The Islanders will be one of the many teams interested in acquiring the star scorer. This is the move that Lamoriello is looking to make to allow the team to immediately rebound and become one of the more competitive teams in the league.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.