The New York Islanders are one of the few teams that are looking to sign Nazem Kadri and add him to an already talented roster. Kadri is one of the more talented centers on the market and has yet to sign with a team in free agency, making for one of the intriguing storylines of the offseason. Adding him to the Islanders’ forward unit would put the team over the top and make them possibly one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders have over $11 million in salary cap space, which appears to be enough to acquire a star forward like Kadri, who could field a $7 million per year deal. However, if they’re going to make a move for him, they would still need to make a few minor moves to open up cap space, especially with both Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov requiring new deals.
General manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello is hoping to make the late splash of the offseason and help the Islanders rebound after a disappointing 2021-22 season. To turn the offseason into a successful one, the first task for him is to sign the two young restricted free agent defensemen with a possible Kadri move in mind.
Signing Romanov & Dobson to Bridge Deals
The first necessary move is to give both Dobson and Romanov team-friendly, short-term contracts, ideally in the three-year range of $4 million per season. For both young defensemen, the case can be made that they would both be underpaid at that price, especially Dobson, who is coming off a breakout season where he scored 13 goals and 38 assists and emerged as one of the Islanders’ best two-way players. Likewise, Lamoriello acquired Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens for the 13th overall pick, and he provides great skating and hard-hitting to the blue line, two traits the unit needs.
However, from the Islanders’ perspective, both players signing bridge deals leave room for the splash signing, one many fans were hoping would happen with Johnny Gaudreau, who instead signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Similarly, the two defensemen could also benefit from a bridge deal where they enter free agency in their prime years and garner the big deal then. A long-term extension has its benefits, as it would secure the Islanders’ defense for years to come with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock also under big contracts. With the team in win-now mode, they would need all the room necessary to add talent, and the long-term deals, especially one for Dobson, would eliminate the ability for them to do so.
Two bridge deals won’t open up cap space entirely. However, they will certainly help the Islanders and allow Lamoriello to handle the next steps in the offseason more effectively, notably if he needs to subsequently move a player.
Trade Beauvillier or Bailey
The most direct move to both provides room on the roster and cap space for a signing. Both Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey have been on the Islanders’ trading block for different reasons and, in the right deals, could get moved. Beauvillier struggled to find a role last season in the forward unit as he took a step back, but the 25-year-old winger has shown flashes and, in a new setting, could see his career take off. Bailey, meanwhile, might not have the same interest as he is 32 years old and limited in what he adds to the offense, but a team might still want to add the veteran presence and puck distributor to the middle of the forward unit.
Both players have expensive contracts that currently weigh down the Islanders. While it’s possible the Islanders would have to take on some of either contract in a deal, particularly if they trade Bailey, who has a $5 million per year contract for the next two seasons as part of his six-year contract. Even if the Islanders take on some of either contract, the move will still allow them to make that splash signing and significantly upgrade their offense in the process.
Move On From Bellows
Lamoriello moving on from Kieffer Bellows would be one of the tougher moves in the offseason but one that might be necessary. Bellows is a restricted free agent and could take a team-friendly deal, but if there is no place for him on the roster, the Islanders will have to consider moving him. The 24-year-old forward, in three seasons with the team, has played only 67 games and notably failed to establish himself as a regular starter with the NHL roster.
Moving Bellows doesn’t directly open up cap space, especially since he is currently unsigned for next season. However, he would be one less forward on the roster and one less contract to worry about for Lamoriello, who, if he adds Kadri, will have a surplus of forwards on the team. Furthermore, Bellows is an intriguing player to include in a deal along with a player like Bailey or Beauvillier to both open up cap space and possibly return the Islanders’ assets in the process.
In all likelihood, the Islanders will keep Bellows and, if they need to, will assign him to the American Hockey League (AHL) team in the Bridgeport Islanders before the start of the season. Bellows is a power forward that provides a different look to the forward unit and, as a result, could remain on the roster for next season. However, if the Islanders are looking to make a splash, the young forward will likely be one of the players they’ll have to move.
Additional Advantages for the Islanders Opening Up Cap Space
A lot of eyes are on Kadri, who the islanders could sign and immediately upgrade the team. However, a handful of moves made by Lamoriello would provide other advantages in case the team can’t acquire the veteran center. The extra cap space would notably give the Islanders the room to make a move by midseason or at the trade deadline, with the team hoping to be in the playoff race under first-year head coach Lane Lambert.
Patrick Kane will be the most prominent player that will likely be traded next season, with the Chicago Blackhawks entering a difficult rebuild. Likewise, David Pastrnak is entering the final year of his contract with the Boston Bruins, while J.T. Miller would be a rental from the Vancouver Canucks. The Islanders are looking to add that missing piece to turn them into Stanley Cup contenders, and in the remainder of the offseason, the extra cap space will play a big role in allowing them to make that move.
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.