The Expansion Draft is right around the corner, with the Seattle Kraken selecting their inaugural roster as the 32nd team in the NHL. At The Hockey Writers, the talented writers for each team participated in the Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft, with Tony Wolak as the acting General Manager for the Kraken.
The New York Islanders enter the Expansion Draft with a complete roster but multiple questions surrounding the team and the salary cap situation. The roster itself is only a few pieces away from winning a Stanley Cup but also has to deal with aging veterans, multiple pending free agents, and limited Entry Draft selections. The obstacles make this offseason a tough one for the Islanders, who have reached the Semifinal in consecutive seasons, but it also allowed the front office a rare opportunity for approaching the expansion draft.
Trading Nick Leddy
The Islanders moving one of the greater cap hits on the roster was a top priority in preparation for the expansion draft. Multiple players on the team can be traded for draft selections or even a younger skater including Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, or Semyon Varlamov, all of which are aging veterans that cost $5 million per season or more. Nick Leddy is coming off a strong season with the Islanders where he was one of the team’s better two-way defensemen who distributed 29 assists in the 2020-21 regular season. Considering that the front office can only protect three defensemen, this left Leddy as a viable trade option for a team that wants to acquire a veteran defenseman that can impact both ends of the ice.
Despite the contract ($5.5 million per season), there were still a handful of teams interested in acquiring the veteran defenseman. The Vegas Golden Knights were the most intrigued in acquiring Leddy, considering they need a replacement for Alec Martinez, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, and a defenseman that can play alongside either Alex Pietrangelo or Shea Theodore would allow them to remain one of the top teams in NHL. The Golden Knights, managed by Devin Little, offered a 2021 second-round selection in the Entry Draft and 24-year-old center Nicolas Roy for Leddy. The move helped the Islanders not only prepare for the future by adding a younger forward and draft assets but allows the team to re-sign some of the pending restricted free agents with the extra salary cap space.
The Islanders Protected Forwards
The Islanders protected seven forwards and three defensemen. With the acquisition of Roy, the forwards unit was going to require some veteran scorers left unprotected and selected by the Kraken.
Protected: Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Nicolas Roy
The only questionable protected forward on this list is Eberle, who at 31-years-old is regarded as one of the Islanders forwards that are on the decline in his career. Moreover, the $5.5 million annual average value is an offputting contract to pick up for the Kraken, and they might not want to select the veteran forward as a result. The Islanders ultimately protect Eberle to keep the top line together, especially with Anders Lee returning to the lineup after missing the second half of the previous season with a torn ACL and with the top line thriving as it did in the first half of the previous season, the team might look even better in the upcoming season.
Oliver Wahlstrom was already protected as he’s still on his entry-level contract, leaving the Islanders with Cal Clutterbuck, Leo Komarov, and Josh Bailey as the primary forwards left unprotected. Bailey is a fan favorite and has been with the team since being drafted in 2008, but at 31-years-old and after finishing a season with only eight goals, the Islanders prepared to move on from the veteran forward and find younger skaters like Wahlstrom to step up in his absence.
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Kyle Palmieri, Casey Cizikas, Travis Zajac
Islanders Protected Defensemen & Goaltending
With Nick Leddy traded to the Golden Knights, the protected defensemen list is rather straightforward. The Islanders had to protect three defensemen, and Noah Dobson is still playing on his entry-level contract, so he was exempt from the Expansion Draft.
Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock
Prior to the Leddy trade, the question was whether the Islanders would leave Scott Mayfield unprotected instead. Between the two, Mayfield is playing on a significantly better contract, with only a $1.45 million cap hit, and is still playing at a high level for the defensive unit, especially in the playoffs where the 28-year-old defenseman was great on both ends of the ice for the team, providing an extra boost to the offense from the blue line. Otherwise, the team must protect the defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, arguably one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL, and with Pelech becoming a restricted free agent, the Islanders must protect him to avoid losing a top defenseman in the league to the Kraken.
Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov
The case can be made to trade Varlamov this offseason, with the 33-year-old goaltender finishing one of the best seasons of his career, allowing a great return for the Islanders. The Islanders however wouldn’t want to place a full season’s worth of starts on the 25-year-old goaltender Ilya Sorokin who had a strong first season in the NHL but can easily become overwhelmed by an 82-game season. Protecting Varlamov gives the Islanders one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL and prevents the Kraken from selecting one of the better goaltenders in the NHL.
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Braydon Coburn, Andy Greene, Ilya Sorokin
The Kraken Select Josh Bailey
Josh Bailey was the best player that was left unprotected, and the risk of leaving him exposed for the Kraken to select led to his inevitable departure. Kieffer Bellows was another viable option for the Kraken, but a veteran scoring presence was seen as more valuable, and as a result, they selected the 31-year-old forward instead of the 20-year-old Bellows. Bailey will be a tough forward to replace for the Islanders, but with the $5.5 million per year that is freed up with his selection, the front office suddenly has enough salary cap to work with and refuel the already complete roster.
Islanders Outlook Following the Expansion Draft
By trading Leddy and Bailey becoming the Kraken’s selection, the Islanders accomplished everything they set out to prior to the draft. The front office opened up over $10 million in cap space, allowing for restricted free agents like Beauvillier, Pelech, and Sorokin to be re-signed and possibly allow the team to bring back unrestricted free agents like Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas. The Islanders also acquired a young and talented center in Roy, who adds scoring to the backend of the forwards unit. The team continues to improve with the hope of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since the 1982-83 NHL season, and the Expansion Draft helps the front office with all the issues entering the offseason.