Day One of NHL Free Agency was an adrenaline rush. Everyone was waiting to hear where Johnny Gaudreau was going to end up. As the day went on the Philadelphia Flyers fell out of the race and it was just down to the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders–so we thought.
Then out of nowhere, the Columbus Blue Jackets burst onto the scene and landed the 28-year-old.
Let’s rewind for a quick second.
Johnny Gaudreau turned down an eight-year deal from the Calgary Flames for $84 million ($10.5 M AAV), which showed to everyone it was not about the money. It seemed that the move was about family, which is why the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils became the two front runners.
The Islanders were the dark horse.
But as Wednesday went along and free agency went into hour two, hour three, hour four, the Philadelphia Flyers failed to shed enough cap space to land Gaudreau, who grew up a fan of the Flyers.
That New Jersey Devils, Johnny Gaudreau’s home state, offered him north of $10 million a year for seven years. The New York Islanders offered Gaudreau just under $10 million.
Then Columbus came out from behind the curtain with a seven-year deal worth $68.25 million ($9.75 M AAV) and Gaudreau stunned the hockey world by choosing to go there.
Again, it clearly was not about the money. Gaudreau left over $15 million on the table choosing Columbus over Carolina. The New Jersey Devils offer was more than Columbus and although there is no information on the Islanders’ final offer, I would say it came in around or just under what the Blue Jackets offered him.
Gaudreau’s reasoning for choosing Columbus was because of his relationship with a few players and how amazing he heard the city was.
Well, due to their pursuit of Gaudreau, the New York Islanders did not make any moves on the first day of free agency. They were one of two teams not to do so, but the other was the Nashville Predators who already locked up top player Filip Forsberg for life as well as traded for defenseman Ryan McDonough.
It’s not uncommon that we did not hear about an Islanders signing, as you usually we do not hear about them until late August. Could New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello have signed someone?
Regardless, the remaining top players available are no longer on the board, and teams in the Metropolitan Division all strengthened their rosters.
Ondrej Palat, who would have been a perfect fit on the island, signed overnight with the New Jersey Devils, a five-year deal worth $30 million ($6 million AAV).
The New York Rangers signed Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year deal worth $39.375 million ($5.625 M).
The Pittsburgh Penguins retained Evgeni Malkin (4-year, $24.4 M) at the last second and shored up their defense a bit with the signing of former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Ruuta (3-year, $8.25M).
The Washington Capitals signed Stanley Cup-winning netminder Darcy Kuemper (5-year, $26.5 M), backup netminder Charlie Lindgren (3-year, $3.3 M), and defenseman Erik Gustafsson (1-year, $800,000).
Now let’s get to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Gm Don Waddell only made one signing on Day 1, bringing in forward Ondrej Kase on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. He also traded for defenseman Brent Burns (from Sharks) and Max Pacioretty (from Golden Knights).
Given his tenacious scoring ability, Max Pacioretty would have been an excellent pivoting point for the New York Islanders. Lamoriello said improvements would have to come via trades.
Because Vegas was in such a cap crunch, Pacioretty was given away for…future considerations.
Even the Philadelphia Flyers made a few signings, bringing back Justin Braun (1-year, $1.75 M) and bringing in tough guy Nicolas Deslauriers (4-year, $7 M).
Now what for the New York Islanders?
I wrote a story on Wednesday about how the Islanders should not go after Long Island native Sonny Milano as the Islanders do not need any more depth pieces. But with the inability to bring in the superstar on day one and with the handful of names off the board, the options on the free agency market become slim.
Here is a list of the best available free agents as of Thursday morning:
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman stated that he believes both New York teams were in on Nazem Kadri as of Monday in his ’32 Thoughts’ podcast. But with the Rangers’ signing of Trocheck, which takes them out of the running for him. The Capitals have also been linked to the Stanley Cup-winning center.
This was the same podcast in which Friedman mentioned Lamoriello’s free agency rule.
“Lou Lamoriello is notorious for not calling until 12:01 Eastern on Wednesday. He is old school. He does not break the rules,” Friedman said. “And that’s why this guy [Elliotte’s source] said to me was you might have to wait for some clarity [on Kadri] if the Islanders are indeed part of this.”
Could the Islanders still be in on Kadri?
The Islanders already have four centermen (Barzal, Nelson, Pageau, Cizikas), meaning that if Kadri joined the team, someone would be placed on the wing. Not sure if that would be the route I would go, but the Islanders need to improve their top six before the season begins.
None of the other names on the remaining free agent list will move the needle, and given the improvements in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders need more than what those players can offer.
Lou Lamoriello, at the NHL Trade Deadline and following the end of the 2021-22 season, stated that improvements to the roster would likely come via hockey trades. During the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, Lamoriello traded for 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov, which gave the Islanders a rather strong top-four on defense, with Scott Mayfield as the fifth guy.
The Islanders still need to improve the top-six but also could use another defenseman. 21-year-old Robin Salo, who played 21 games at the NHL level in 2021-22, could use more experience in Bridgeport (AHL).
There are defensemen available, such as John Klingberg, Colin Miller, former Islander Calvin DeHaan, and former Devil P.K. Subban. With Scott Mayfield a right-handed shot, one would think the Islanders are looking for a left-handed defenseman to pair with him, eliminating Klingberg, Miller, and Subban.
Out of that list, only Calvin DeHaan can play the left side. That is if the Islanders keep Scott Mayfield. Robin Salo could play both the left and the right if they went the Mayfield-trade route.
The New York Islanders are in a challenging position. After back-to-back runs to the semi-finals, a lackluster 2021-22 season in the first year of UBS Arena, the firing of a Hall of Fame head coach in Barry Trotz and his staff, the Islanders needed a big splash to turn the tide.
New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, whose contract expires after this upcoming season, needs a player by his side that can do damage, to entice him to stay. If that player does not come, whether it is in free agency or via trade, the New York Islanders might as well explore the market to move Barzal–unless an extension is reached at a reasonable cost.
It was just day one, and patience is a virtue. It’s not about what happened on Wednesday. It’s about what New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello does in the coming days, weeks, and months to get his roster as strong as possible heading into the 2022-23 season.
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