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Islanders’ Free Agency Targets: Penalty Killing Forwards

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Kevin Stenlund, a key part of the Panthers penalty kill // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

The New York Islanders are tight to the cap. That’s no secret. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is very available, and the Islanders are looking to dump his contract. Anders Lee might be, as well. It has to be a summer of change for the Islanders, as what they’ve got just hasn’t been good enough.

The positives are that they played at a 99-point pace under Patrick Roy. Even then, that pace was an up-and-down roller coaster experience. The Islanders won six straight from the end of February to March 10 and then lost six in a row immediately after, including being shutout in consecutive games. Then, the Islanders pulled a rabbit out of their hat and ended the year 8-0-1 to tiptoe their way right into the playoffs.

Then, the Carolina Hurricanes manhandled them. Multiple areas of weakness were exposed, starting with the fact that the entire series saw Casey Cizikas on line one. It also deals directly with the season-long anemic penalty kill.

What Does The Team Need; Revisiting Maxim Tsyplakov

Priority number one is, as always, finding a new left wing to play permanently on line one. Additionally, the Islanders need more depth in their bottom six. In particular, the team needs a penalty killer.

The team already added Maxim Tsyplakov, who has a cap hit of $950k. Islanders fans know how tricky it is to bet on KHL players coming over and becoming players. Jan Kovar and Anatolii Golyshev say hello.

Tsyplakov had far more suitors than those players, and he is expected to be right in the mix for a job out of training camp. He’s built as a power forward with a good scoring touch. That could translate well to the NHL, but that remains to be seen.

Additionally, with the expected departures of Matt Martin and Pageau, there is room in the bottom six as well. Cal Clutterbuck is also a pending UFA, but Arthur Staple of the Athletic reported in his roster tiers that Clutterbuck may be back for another season in a bonus-laden veteran deal.

So, who could be the best value for the New York Islanders, available for less than $3.5 million a year?

Let’s turn to AFPAnalytics, which has released its annual NHL Free Agency contract projections for this year. The Islanders will need affordable top-six and bottom-six wingers who can help out the penalty kill. This article will focus on potential bottom-six additions to the roster.

Target #1 Christian Fischer

Christian Fischer is a 27-year-old forward who can play either wing. He is a solid penalty killer with some slight offensive upside. This past season, he had five goals and 19 points with the Detroit Red Wings, and the season before, with the now-defunct Arizona Coyotes, he had thirteen goals and 27 points.

Fischer played penalty kill minutes on both teams and did that well. His contract this past season was a one-year, $1.125 million dollars, so he was very cheap. After scoring even less, his contract won’t eclipse that figure. His versatility within what wings he can play, while also being a penalty killer, makes him an ideal target, especially when the likelihood of his deal comes in relatively cheap.

AFP projects Fischer at one year and a hair over $950k for the season. That feels like a potential bargain.

Target #2 Jordan Martinook

Jordan Martinook is a name the vast majority of Islanders fans will already be familiar with. Just from watching the last two playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Martinook’s crazy work ethic, strength, and presence in the game itself are impossible to ignore.

He broke the Islanders’ hearts in game two, scoring the game-winning goal after the Islanders’ epic 3-0 collapse. He also made one of the most heroic saves in the playoffs against the New York Rangers, diving behind Frederik Anderson to swipe the puck out from the goalline as it was about to trickle into the net.

Martinook will turn 32 on July 25 and is coming off a three-year, $1.8 million per year deal with the Hurricanes, but at 32 years old, he won’t require a super long-term agreement. He played in multiple spots in the Hurricanes’ bottom six and netted 14 goals and 32 points this past season. For the first time in his career, he’s topped 30 points in multiple years while getting the most ice time he’s gotten with the Hurricanes in the last two seasons.

Martinook’s projection at AFP is three years, at $2.7 million per. It’s tough to argue his value there, as he’s been reliably great for the Hurricanes defensively while adding in 10+ goals and 30+ points of offense. For the Islanders, it might be a little more than maybe they can afford. However, his presence against them in the playoffs sticks out in particular as a reason to go to bat to sign the player.

Target #3 Kevin Stenlund

Kevin Stenlund is a 27-year-old winger and center for the Florida Panthers, who currently lead the Stanley Cup Final 1-0. Stenlund has been a crucial part of their penalty kill all year, adding in 11 goals and 15 points on offense.

It’s the first season he’s played in full, playing in 81 of 82 games after only 54 in Winnipeg the prior year.
Stenlund has scored four shorthanded goals in the last two years while helping turn a Florida penalty kill that was 23rd in the NHL in 2022-23 into the sixth-best penalty kill this past season. Stenlund was in Columbus for multiple years but failed to break through. He began the year outside Winnipeg’s roster, but he never came out after making his debut in December.

Stenlund’s AFP projection is two years at $1.33 million per year, which would be a solid deal for both the player and the Islanders. The Islanders would lock in a versatile penalty killer who can play the wing or center while maintaining their cap situation.

Who Should Be Priority #1?

Of these three players, Martinook is the best. However, at 32 years old and with that projection, he may not be the wisest investment. My target would be Stenlund, as he would add both to the bottom six and center depth while ideally providing a solution to the anemic penalty kill. It only helps if you can lock him in for multiple seasons.