In this new flat-cap era, however long it might be, the New York Islanders are in a holding pattern.
With around just $8.9 million in cap space, as it stands, the team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make many additions to improve upon the roster.
The Islanders, being a win-now team, were right on the cusp with their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 27 years. With restricted free agents Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock, it’s going to take plenty of maneuvering from Lou Lamoriello for New York to take that leap and reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.
That being said, it’s not likely that the Islanders would bring in another playmaker to improve upon the 2019-20 season. For them to meet or exceed expectations once the New Year rolls around, it’s going to take positive steps from a group of their homegrown players.
Especially if the Islanders don’t re-sign Derick Brassard or end up dealing Leo Komarov as part of cap shedding, that’s going to leave valuable ice time, largely on that third line.
This potentially leaves the door open for the likes of Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows.
Wahlstrom, who notched 22 points in 45 games in Bridgeport, showed some of that offensive promise in a nine-game stint with the Islanders, though he failed to register a point. The Athletic recently ranked the forward as the 105th best player under the age of 23.
He’s got all the capabilities to become a dynamic offensive force for the Islanders once he’s fully acclimated to Barry Trotz’s system, which was part of why he had an extended stay in the AHL last year. He’s currently playing in Sweden, though did suffer a tough injury that will likely keep him sidelined week to week, per Eyes on Isles.
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) October 21, 2020
Though Wahlstrom still is working on the details and the defensive side of the game, his ability to create plays and score with the puck makes him a valuable option for the Islanders. Similar things could be said of Bellows, whose impressive shooting skills have helped him score 34 goals over the last two seasons in the AHL.
Bellows was disciplined earlier this year for violating the AHL/Professional Hockey Players’ Association performance-enhancing substances program. Having already served his penalty, Bellows could vie for a more prominent role with the team in 2021. During the regular season, the Islanders ranked 22nd in the NHL with 2.78 goals per game.
They were better in a shorter postseason sample with a 3.00 goals a game clip, but the Islanders are going to need continued scoring threats and depth for them to maintain any sort of momentum from their playoff run. That’s where Bellows and his well-regarded shot could come into play.
There’s also the polarizing and enigmatic forward Josh Ho-Sang. The Islanders extended a qualifying offer to him, but he’s elected to go to arbitration at the end of October. It remains to be seen what will come of that situation, especially if Ho-Sang ends up waived or still wants to be traded.
But the Islanders don’t have a ton of Minor League plug-and-play depth to get any more scoring, so Ho-Sang could end up being a helpful addition to the bottom six. While his traditional offensive numbers (24 points in 53 NHL games) are not eye-popping, he’s had solid possession metrics with the Islanders. He owns a 51.3 percent Corsi for and a 2.6 percent Corsi relative. In short, the Islanders have been a better team with him on the ice. There’s little doubting his NHL skill.
But clashes with the coaching staff and front office have largely dominated his tenure in New York, so it’ll be interesting to see what ends up coming of his arbitration hearing.
The New York Islanders are in a bit of a bind until they can find salary cap room. But the good news is they might already have the help they need.