The New York Islanders managed to free up a substantial amount of salary cap space ahead of the opening of free agency on Wednesday.
It was a monumental move for general manager Lou Lamoriello, but it left the Islanders with some holes to fill for the next season. The Seattle Kraken selecting Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft means the Islanders need to fill his spot on the top line, and trading Nick Leddy to Detroit means Lamoriello needs to find a replacement on the blue line.
The Islanders’ internal options aren’t too deep at either position to fill that void. Thomas Hickey is a serviceable seventh defenseman, but he isn’t going to take the minutes that Leddy played and for as well as Sebastian Aho has played in the AHL, he just hasn’t managed to crack the Islanders lineup.
And right now with the Islanders going for another shot at the cup this season, it would be hard to see the Islanders going with the young defenseman to fill Leddy’s role. You’d face the same issues with Samuel Bolduc or Bode Wilde, who have yet to play in the NHL. Both had looked good in limited time with the Bridgeport Islanders, but that’s far from meaning that would translate right away at the NHL level.
Upfront the Islanders’ depth gets even slimmer at finding someone to adequately take Eberle’s spot next to Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal. Kyle Palmieri could be slotted in their as a replacement if the Islanders bring him back, but that would still require the Islanders to then fill a vacancy on the third line.
The Islanders have roughly $17 million in cap space right now and would get another $6 million in wiggle room once they put Johnny Boychuk on LTIR. With free agency opening in just a matter of hours, here are some external options for the Islanders to explore on the open market.
The big fish is off the table and that of course is Gabriel Landeskog, who signed an eight-year contract extension with the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night after weeks of rumors and speculation. Now the Islanders will turn their focus on the remaining UFAs about to hit the market.
Kyle Palmieri: Yes, he was an Islander last season, but in a matter of hours he will be an unrestricted free agent. The Islanders are expected to sign him to a deal after a strong playoffs for the Long Island Native. Palmieri could slot into the top line — he had some success there last year late in the season and in the playoffs — as a way of filling the void left by Jordan Eberle. Oliver Wahlstrom would remain on the third line and Zach Parise, who the New York Islanders have been heavily linked to, would jump into Palmieri’s spot on the third line. Not the sexiest option for fans during free agent silly season, but it could work.
Brandon Saad: Alright, a little bit more of an exciting option for the Islanders is Saad, who also played in Colorado last season. The 28-year-old had 15 goals and 24 points in 44 games last season, but prior to that Saad had scored 20 or more goals in five of six years between Chicago and Columbus. Elliotte Friedman linked the Islanders to Saad earlier this week. Now does Saad get the job done for the Islanders in filling the Eberle gap? Probably not, but it would be a start.
Nick Ritchie: It was a bit of a surprise that Ritchie didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Boston Bruins. He scored a career-high 15 goals and put up 26 points for Boston. The former first-round pick will surely garner some interest when the market opens and the Islanders should give the 25-year-old a look when it does.
Zach Parise: This seems to be a deal that is all but done. The Islanders and Parise have been flirting with one another it seems since he was bought out earlier this month. Parise’s numbers were down and so was his playing time at the end in Minnesota, but a fresh start on Long Island and the bigger role he’d get will likely turn that around. Parise still can add some firepower to the third line and paired with Oliver Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau that could be a fun line to watch. Parise also reportedly visited Long Island recently.
The pickings will be slim here for the New York Islanders who need a left-handed defenseman who can eat up an average ice time of 21:35. That won’t be easy to replace as some of the best options for New York came off the board before the market even opened up.
Ryan Suter: The odds of Suter ending up with the New York Islanders seemed to diminish day by day. The Isles were interested in bringing Suter to Long Island, but Dallas appears to be the front runner for him. With Suter reportedly asking for four years, that may end up being a good thing for New York, although he would have fit well as a second or third pair defenseman who can play a lot of minutes, play physically and has some offensive ability.
Alex Goligoski: The Islanders have been linked to Goligoski leading up to free agency and he could be an enticing option for New York. Yes, his age is up there, but his durability makes the signing a little less risky and he’d fit the needs left by Leddy’s departure. The soon-to-be 36-year-old has spent the last five years with the Arizona Coyotes and put up 30-plus point seasons in four of the five years. Last season he had three goals and 22 points in 56 games with Arizona. In addition, Goligoski has averaged more than 23 minutes a game over the past two seasons. Boston and Minnesota are in the running as well for the veteran defenseman.
Derek Forbort: At 29, he’s one of the younger options the Islanders have on the market. He was ranked 28th by Frank Seravalli on his top 75 free agents for this year and he’s logged big minutes in Winnipeg last season. Boston Hockey Now’s Joe Haggerty described Forbort as “a solid, no-frills top-4 option without a ton of offensive oomph.”
Dougie Hamilton: Let’s have a little fun, it’s free agency silly season for goodness sake. Hamilton is a right-handed shot, but he would fit everything else the Islanders need in a Leddy replacement. He averaged 22:43 of ice time last season and had good offensive numbers last year, scoring 10 goals during the regular season and racking up 42 points. Hamilton also quarterbacked the Carolina Hurricanes’ top power-play unit. Just a passing thougth.