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Free Agency

Patience: Trade Now or Wait for the Gold Mine of 2025?



Brock Nelson, Kyle Palmieri, and Noah Dobson all enter 2024-25 with expiring contracts

The majority of the 2025 NHL Free Agency class has come and gone. The New York Islanders kept Mike Reilly and made a rare July 1 splash by signing Anthony Duclair to a four-year, $14 million deal. Yet, despite some talk about a significant trade for Nikolaj Ehlers or Martin Necas, the Islanders kept a low-key profile.

They came away winners at the NHL Draft, keeping all their draft picks and bringing in a new crop of prospects, including the blue-chip Cole Eiserman. As outlined yesterday, the Islanders have a more-than-full roster. They’re cozy with the salary cap, having just around $1 million left for the three NHL RFAs- Simon Holmstrom, Ruslan Iskhakov, and Oliver Wahlstrom.

The rest of the summer figures to be quiet for the Islanders. Some people are still clamoring to add Ehlers to the fold if Winnipeg is keen on moving the Danish winger. He would undoubtedly boost the Islanders to even higher heights and lower the immediate burden likely handed to Maxim Tsyplakov on Brock Nelson’s wing.

2025 Look Ahead

But the assets the Islanders hold now will undoubtedly grow in value over the course of the season. Burning the draft capital in the 2025 Draft this early would severely impact the Islanders’ ability to make a splash at the 2025 NHL Trade Deadline.

The list of free agents for the 2025 class is juicy. The Islanders will have their hands full keeping the band together- the team will have around $20 million to spend- but will have to extend RFAs Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and Samuel Bolduc. The UFAs will include Nelson, Kyle Palmieri, Hudson Fasching, and Reilly.

That’s not a ton of money for those players. It also doesn’t factor in what type of money Tsyplakov could get if his season goes well. He’d also be an RFA. What if William Dufour breaks through the glut at forward?

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and/or Anders Lee will likely be moved after next season, as both would only have one more year left. Thus, moving one or both becomes significantly easier. If both get cleared from the books, that could be another $12 million.

What Will It Cost to Keep Everyone?

Signing Dobson long-term could get pricey. If he’s got another 70-point season or more, the minimum he’ll fetch is $8.5-9 per year. If Nelson has another 30-goal, 70-point season, he gets pricey. The catch is that he turns 33 this season, so it’s tough to imagine a lot of money committed long-term to him. Maybe Lou gives him the Scott Mayfield-style contract, 7 or 8 years, but a lower AAV than he’d get on the market.

Palmieri won’t exceed his current cap hit. Not at age 34, anyway. Bolduc and Tsyplakov will control their destiny and salary with their play this season. Reilly and Fasching, as UFAs, can also be lumped in with that group.

Romanov is where it all gets dicey. What is Romanov’s figure on a long-term deal right now? He’s a strong, mainly defensive-defenseman, scoring seven goals and 22 points this past year. A pure guess lands him an eight-year deal right around where Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech’s eight-year deals are.

Conservatively, that lands the Islanders well over the $20 million budget. Luckily, the salary cap will increase by roughly another $5 million. That’ll give the Islanders approximately $25 million to work with before moving Pageau or Lee.

What Could Be Out There Next Year?

So, the Islanders have a lot of business in-house for the next few months. What about who could shake loose?
There’s another Brock from Minnesota with an expiring contract next year: Brock Boeser. There are also the aforementioned Ehlers, Travis Konecny, and Brad Marchand.

That’s just the lower rung. Mikko Rantanen, Mitchell Marner, and Leon Draisaitl all have expiring contracts. Old friend John Tavares is set to expire, too. Heck, even Sidney Crosby is set to become a free agent.

Conventional wisdom tells you that of that list, maybe two actually make it to market.

But some might get traded. Bo Horvat was acquired due to his expiring contract, and Lou signed him well before the free agency market opening.

Controlling their important assets might help the Islanders land a key player in-season to boost the team’s success, as Horvat did in 2022-23.

Where do the Islanders fit in?

Three teams are entering this season that you can cleanly classify as better than the Islanders—the Rangers, Hurricanes, and, most likely, the Devils. Nothing’s ever certain, however. Both the Rangers and especially the Hurricanes have worse rosters than last year. The Islanders have a stronger one and a coach they played at a 100-point pace under, all without a training camp with him.

The Capitals made many moves, but it’s hard to say that they’re better for them. The Flyers chummed the water, but if Matvei Michkov is legit, they become super intriguing again. The Penguins might legitimately finish last in the division. Their roster has stayed the same, their mediocre goaltending is the same, and their star players are one year older. The Blue Jackets are themselves, with the most significant acquisition being Sean Monahan. They’ve yet to trade the want away Patrik Laine.

All this to say, as currently constructed, the Islanders should firmly be in the mix. If Ilya Sorokin rebounds back into form, the sky is the limit.

Patience is usually not the fun option. Flexibility, however, might be the better one this year. Who knows what the NHL will look like in six months. The Islanders have time on their sides with a strong enough roster. There’s no reason not to exercise patience and let things play out. If there’s a deal to be made, it should be made. But don’t force one.

The grass could turn greener regarding available options before anyone knows it.

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Doug M

There is no way Romanov is looking at 8x$6m or even in that ballpark. If his ask is anywhere close, then he needs to be let go.

Michael Galligan

Lou is in the driving seat !!!! I Love it !!!! Let’s go Islanders!!!!