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New York Islanders Free Agency Primer: Bargains Available

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Happy July 1 to all who celebrate. The New York Islanders enter today with $5.825 million in salary cap space. They have yet to re-sign any of their pending UFAs but have qualified their three NHL RFAs, so the actual amount to spend is even less than that $5.825 figure. One can surmise, then, that the Islanders will be bargain-bin-shopping if anything at all.

Setting the Table for Today

Last summer, the Islanders re-signed four of their own on July 1 without signing a single free agent. Then, on July 5, the team signed Julien Gauthier and two others who spent the year in Bridgeport. In 2022, they sat quietly and didn’t sign anyone for the NHL team on Canada Day. Frankly, every year under Lamoriello, it is quiet on free agency day. Some years, like 2019 and the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes, the Islanders were involved but came away empty.

Now, the team is cap-strapped. They won’t target any of the big fish and will instead hope to get some steals or good value from names lower on the board. Last year, the team announced all of their transactions for the day at 4:45 p.m.

There are some potentially great value adds available lower down the board; it’s just a matter of what the Islanders’ will actually do if anything at all.

Nevertheless, this article will list several affordable players who could help the Islanders address any of their issues or improve organizational depth.

The main targets will be left-shot defensemen and a myriad of cheap forwards that can address the top six.

Left-Shot Defenseman Targets

Option 1: P.O Joseph

P.O Joseph, who turns 25 today, is an excellent skater but struggled to get any inconsistency, and his defensive shortcomings frequently frustrated the Penguins, who have now cut ties after not tendering him a Qualifying Offer.

Joseph scored two goals and 11 points in 52 games this past season.

Joseph is a capable puck mover, and his offensive ability is one of the strong suits of his game. At just 25, there is more potential to unearth. The way you’d add in Joseph is to let Mike Reilly walk away and sign a younger player into that role, or at least someone who can compete with and push Samuel Bolduc into taking his needed step forward.

Option 2: Erik Brannstrom

Erik Brannstrom, 24, is also a player with high offensive upside from the defensive role. He’s actually a more well-rounded player than Joseph. He scored three goals and 20 points in 76 games on Ottawa’s tire fire of a season.

He’s a former first-round pick, which ironically originally belonged to the Islanders, but Vegas acquired the pick and drafted him before trading him to Ottawa in the Mark Stone trade.

Brannstrom just completed his best season, but it wasn’t enough for Ottawa to keep him around. His potential is frustrating, as he often leaves teams wanting more but never quite reaches that next level. Perhaps a fresh start on the Island could help him along.

Option 3: Re-sign Mike Reilly

This is likely the simplest and most likely path. The Islanders don’t want to keep impeding Bolduc’s development, so letting Reilly walk has become possible. Sebastian Aho and Robert Bortuzzo are expected to leave the organization.

Keeping Reilly would essentially fill that sixth defenseman spot without Bolduc having an opportunity to seize the spot. But the Islanders are trying to win now. Perhaps Lamoriello doesn’t want younger question marks and prefers to have an established veteran like Reilly stick around.

Top Six Forward Options

Option 1: Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner, 32, just got bought out by the Buffalo Sabres. He’s a prolific goal scorer, as we previously outlined.

He fits in because he’s not going to be expensive. He’s looking to join a playoff team and get his chance to win and compete. The selling point of playing on a line with Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal would only serve to help the cause for the Islanders.

Option 2: Max Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty, 35, has only played 91 games in the last three seasons. He’s scored 27 goals in those 91 games. He’s suffered multiple injuries that have derailed the latter part of his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s a perennial 20+ goal scorer.

The reason Pacioretty could be fit is solely due to what his contract will be. It’s hard to imagine he’ll get anything more than the league minimum, and for a guy who can potentially score 30 goals on the top line, it’s not the worst option.

Option 3: Anthony Duclair

Anthony Duclair, 28, is who, based on X/Twitter, most Islanders fans want to see added. He scored 24 goals and 42 points but really popped when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline.

With Tampa, Duclair scored 8 goals and 15 points in 17 games. he’s 28, and won’t have a crazy cap hit. AFPAnalytics projects it to come out to 3x$4.3, which is doable if the Islanders pull the trigger on trading Casey Cizikas or Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Option 4: Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko was at a Stanley Cup parade yesterday. He’s a free agent today. This season, he scored 23 goals and 55 points with the Panthers.

He’s a fit for the Islanders’ top line and the most reliable goal scorer listed, save for maybe Skinner. Vlad likely wants some term, so maybe the Islanders give him a long deal to lower the AAV despite his age.

Closing Thoughts:

In all reality, the Islanders will be quiet.

Then again, they just announced the hiring of Tommy Albelin as a new assistant coach to replace Doug Houda.

The Islanders haven’t made an impact signing on July 1 since 2019, when the team signed Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula. Maybe this is the year that changes. Maybe it’s a big trade.

Keep it locked to NYI Hockey Now for news as it breaks today.