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New York Islanders

Fourth of July Leftovers: What’s Left for the Islanders to Do?

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Anthony Duclair // Mark LoMoglio via Getty Images

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, usually the sign that the NHL summer is genuinely beginning to taper off. However, there was far more smoke than usual out there. Trades are being made, including the Buffalo Sabres acquiring the speedy Ryan McLeod and AHLer Tyler Tullio from Edmonton for… Matthew Savoie? Okay, sure. I’m sure Buffalo has a good reason to trade their top prospect for a third- or fourth-line center, along with an AHLer with a low upside.

Beyond the trade market, some helpful free agents are still out there. Daniel Sprong, Tyler Johnson, and Max Pacioretty are still available at free agency. Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are still looking for a home, too.

Who Is Still Here?

The other shoe then drops. The Islanders’ roster is full. There are 15 NHL-level forwards, including Maxim Tsyplakovand Ruslan Iskhakov. CSKA Moscow has allegedly signed Iskhakov back in the KHL, but there’s been no official word at this point.

Those 15 forwards don’t include a player like Julien Gauthier, who can still play even if he’s fallen out of favor. Nor does it include the signing of Fredrik Karlström to a one-way contract requiring waivers to be sent to Bridgeport.

In addition to Iskhakov, the team still has to deal with RFAs Simon Holmstrom, Dennis Cholowski, and Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom filed for arbitration today, creating a potential second buyout window later in the summer. It could also expedite the process of a Wahlstrom trade, one Lou Lamoriello hinted at during the draft.

The organization has nine defensemen with NHL game experience, including Cholowski and Grant Hutton. As this season proved, the Islanders don’t want to rely on either of those guys, so adding another depth defenseman would be critical. Who’s available in free agency? It depends on what the Islanders are looking for. Most likely, the team wants a right-shot defenseman as insurance. Hutton would be the next-best right-shot defenseman in the organization.

Depth Defensemen Galore

Tyson Barrie is sitting right there if the Islanders are looking for a defenseman with offensive upside on the right side. Other options on the right include younger, less-proven candidates like Calen Addison and Adam Boqvist. There are also veterans like Kevin Shattenkirk, who played well in Boston. But if it’s that route, why not just bring back Robert Bortuzzo?

Some big-name veterans, including Ryan Suter and Mark Giordano, are available for the left side. However, seeing as Mike Reilly re-signed and Bolduc is still developing on the roster, this scribe thinks that the Islanders would rather not completely block out Bolduc.

Signing a depth defenseman to a minimum contract expands the Islanders’ roster to 15 forwards and eight defensemen. That’s not a setup that will make it to September 1. These current free agents will likely end up slowly signing, but many of them will head to training camps to sign PTO agreements.

Decisions, Decisions

Regardless, the Islanders have decisions to make. It could be as simple as Iskhakov heading back to Bridgeport or the KHL and trading Wahlstrom, rolling with the 14 forwards and seven defensemen currently on the roster. That’s indisputably the most straightforward path forward for New York. It isn’t the most fun nor creative, as adding a Nikolaj Ehlers would be.

Anthony Duclair is a perfect addition. He’s played the Roy system, scores goals, and plays with great speed. He’s an ideal fit for Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal. That’s something that can’t be undervalued. It’s also clear the Islanders have incredibly high hopes for Tsyplakov, and he’s the second-line left winger for the team right now. If it’s not him, it’s Anders Lee (who hasn’t meshed well with Brock Nelson) or Pierre Engvall, who is better suited in the bottom six.

The Islanders are far from perfect. But it’s tough to argue that on July 5, 2024, they’re worse than they were on June 1, 2024. They’ve dramatically improved their farm system by drafting Cole Eiserman in round one and then adding Kamil Bednarik and Jesse Pulkkinen in round two.

The Islanders own every single one of their 2025 draft picks, something they haven’t done in Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. The only pick the team is missing in the subsequent three drafts total is the 2026 second-round pick, which Chicago acquired to buy out Josh Bailey for the Islanders last year.

What Comes Next?

Lamoriello can afford to be patient. As great as adding Ehlers would be, taking time to see how the season develops is the right approach. Having every draft pick in 2025 is valuable, as the strength of next year’s draft class is high.

Duclair solves the hole on the first line. Tsyplakov is a wild card with an incredibly high upside. Trading Wahlstrom for another asset could be helpful. If the offense is clicking next season as currently constructed, the assets the Islanders possess could be used in many ways. 

A lot can still change. It’s only July 5, but as Lamoriello has said before. If he has time, he’s going to use it.

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