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Weaponizing Cap Space, Two Free Agent Options for Islanders



New York Islanders, Phil Kessel.
GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14: Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81) skates during the NHL hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes on January 14, 2021 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

On Monday, the New York Islanders officially announced the signings of their three biggest RFAs in Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and Kieffer Bellows. The Islanders now have $2.68 million remaining to play with, if you consider that Robin Salo is likely the seventh defenseman, who has a cap hit of $800k.

On Tuesday the Islanders signed 24-year-old former first-round selection Dennis Cholowski, who is making $762.5K. Maybe he becomes the sixth defenseman.

And if it’s Sebastian Aho instead at the no. 6 spot, then the Islanders have $3.485 million to work with.

While the Islanders improved their defense corp, more so by subtractions with a few additions, there has been no improvements made to an offense that was ranked 23rd worst in the NHL a season ago. There is a lot of faith from Lamoriello that many of his offensive players will have bounce-back years but why not use the cap space to your advantage?

On Tuesday, veteran Paul Statsny signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, slimming the free agent market even further.

Here are two options for the New York Islanders on the open market if they want to go that route.

If mot, they can save the cap space, which becomes an asset at the trade deadline.

Sonny Milano

We will start this list with a player that we at NYI Hockey Now have already discussed in Sonny Milano.

Milano is a native of Massapequa, NY, and who would not want to see a LI native don the blue and orange during their 50th season?

And quite frankly, after conversations with a league source, there is a high chance that Milano will be a member of the New York Islanders. But like we saw with Nazem Kadri, nothing is official until the team announces it.

Milano did add “NY” to his Instagram bio, just saying.

There are a few issues with Sonny Milano, money not being one of them. He is due for a slight raise from his $1.75 million he made last season with the Anaheim Ducks. So for fun, let’s say $2 million.

A contract like that would leave the New York Islanders with $1.4 million to play with, which would allow them to add another player as well.

However, Sonny Milano was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Ducks, even after the highlights we saw of him with superstar in the making Trevor Zegras.

The other issue is that Milano needs to play a top-six role because of his skill set. And as we saw with the Ducks and previously with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he has not been able to do that consistently.

But could Milano find some success with a player like Mathew Barzal?

It might be worth a shot.

At the very least, the Islanders could bring Milano in to make it more of a competitive environment for players like Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows, two players with their eyes set on everyday jobs.

Phil Kessel

The New York Islanders need someone with an elite-level shot, with a quick release and although it’s not a popular move, 34-year-old Phil Kessel still knows how to light the lamp.

Playing in all 82 games for the Arizona Coyotes in 2021-22, Kessel only scored eight goals, a career-low, but notched 44 assists in 16:41 TOI (second-lowest ATOI of career).

The Arizona Coyotes finished the 2021-22 campaign as the second-worst team in the NHL with a record of 25-50-7. Offensively, the Yotes averaged just 2.51 goals per game, the worst in the NHL.

That’s not to say Kessel did not have a bad year because he did, as he shot at an abysmal 4.8%, but a year prior with the Coyotes, Kessel scored 20 goals in 56 games and shot at 17.4%.

Would Kessel do a prove-it deal for one year at $1 million or whatever the Islanders have left after a Milano signing?

Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and knows what it takes to win. He has played in over 1,000 NHL games, and the Islanders, although they do not need another aging player, could use his skill set, even if it’s just on a one-year deal.

Kessel is the current Iron Man streak holder in the NHL, with 968 consecutive games played. He even took a shift in a game last season to keep his streak alive before hopping off the rink to catch a flight so he could be with his wife, who was giving birth.

While he may see an uptick in offensive production, whether with the New York Islanders or another team, he is not a player who cares too much about the defensive side of the puck.

Also, he had just six hits and 21 blocks this past season, with 53 giveaways.

Despite Barry Trotz no longer being at the helm, Lane Lambert will likely keep a similar defensive system, especially with no addition of an elite forward…yet. That means when the chances are there, the Islanders need someone who can quickly make the most of it.

Could that player be Phil “The Thrill” Kessel?

Final Thoughts

The New York Islanders could realistically sign both Sonny Milano and Phil Kessel with the cap space available, which will allow the New York Islanders to have much more depth, especially on the flanks.

Sonny Milano is a creative player that could do wonders with Mathew Barzal while Phil Kessel and his elite shot could give the Islanders scoring depth.

Based on Lamoriello’s press conference on Monday, it seems that the group he has is who he is rolling with for the 2022-23 season. But Lamoriello never tips his hand and the point of a salary cap is to hit it.