The Islanders will have a lot to do this offseason. Obviously, we all know the number one priority will be re-signing captain John Tavares, who will be a UFA on July 1st. But other than that, let’s take a look at some potential targets for the Isles during free agency, and who could be a target if the Isles, dare I say, lose John Tavares.
The forward position is by far the Isles’ strength, but that could easily change if John Tavares decides to leave and sign with another team. Here are some options to add depth to an already stacked forward group:
The 30-year-old Left Winger is a former Islander, and would certainly add depth to the weak bottom-six of the Islanders. Although Kieffer Bellows is said to be NHL ready, he may need to start the season with Bridgeport to get used to playing at the pro level. In 70 games this season for both the Rangers and Devils, Grabner recorded 27 goals and 9 assists. He could come in and add immediate speed to the third line alongside Brock Nelson (if he isn’t traded) and Andrew Ladd. While they are often inconsistent, Ladd and Nelson are both proven goal scorers and could benefit from someone like Grabner coming in and helping create plays.
I would only target Tyler Bozak IF John Tavares leaves. In this scenario, let’s assume he does. Tyler Bozak would be a solid second-line center, and could even center the first-line if needed. He recorded 11 goals and 32 assists in 81 games played this year. Those stats certainly don’t compare to John Tavares but aren’t awful numbers. Assuming that Doug Weight doesn’t want to break up the line of Eberle-Barzal-Beauvillier, we could see Bozak come in and Center Bailey and Lee. Whichever one is called the “first line” is for Dougie to figure out.
This is certainly a position of need for the Isles. In the 2017-18 season, the Isles allowed the most goals in the NHL with 293. Nick Leddy, arguably the best defenseman on the team, was an NHL-worst -42 on the year. Thomas Hickey, Calvin de Haan, and Dennis Seidenberg are the three UFA’s from the defensive group. If I could choose one to stay, it would certainly be Calvin de Haan, but given his injury history, that may not happen. The defense clearly has issues, and it’s up to Lou Lamoriello to figure out how to fix it. Here are some solid free-agent targets for the Isles to fix up their blue line:
Carlson is in for a big payday, and the Isles may be able to give that to him if they don’t spend over $10 million annually on John Tavares. Carlson is one of the best defenders in the NHL. Not only can he defend, but he puts points on the board as well. This season he recorded 15 goals and 53 assists while keeping an even plus/minus of 0. With Johnny Boychuk constantly on the IR and Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield not proving themselves to be full-time NHLers, this would be the perfect signing. Here’s what the Isles defense could look like with the addition of Carlson:
That’s certainly an upgrade from what the Isles had this year. Splitting up Carlson and Leddy is the best move to ensure that you have two extremely trustworthy D-pairings.
It was rumored that the Isles were one of the teams interested in Ian Cole at the deadline, but he was traded to Columbus and the Isles settled on Brandon Davidson and Chris Wagner. Ian Cole is the perfect defenseman for the Isles. In 67 games this year, he recorded 5 goals and 15 assists. He was a +14, which would’ve been second best on the Isles. He is 6’1″ and weighs 219 pounds, which would add more size to the Isles, upgrading from Thomas Hickey, who is likely going to sign with another team this offseason. Ian Cole would be an excellent addition to the Isles.
If the Isles are unable to get John Carlson, Nick Holden is a solid defenseman who can help the Isles bottom pairings. In 73 games for both the Rangers and Bruins, Nick Holden scored 4 goals and added 13 assists. He is not known for his offense, but that isn’t a problem. The 6’4″, 214-pound blueliner would be a strong and capable addition to the back end.
It’s no secret that Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak had rough years in net for the Isles. Both had a GAA above three and were inconsistent on a nightly basis. As mentioned above, the Isles allowed a league-most 293 goals this year, which is easy to blame on the defense but also has to go on the goalies. Jaroslav Halak will be a free-agent and is likely to try to find a new team. Top Swedish goalie prospect Linus Söderström will be heading to the US to join the Isles, but it is unclear if he will be NHL ready. A tandem of Greiss-Söderström would not be good enough to compete with the rest of the league, and many sources have said that Lou Lamoriello will be trying to add a number one goaltender this offseason. Let’s take a look at some potential free agent targets at the position:
The 34-year-old Kari Lehtonen will be a free agent this offseason, and as his role is decreasing in Dallas, he will likely look for a new team. The Isles may be the perfect fit. It’s clear that this is a weak free-agent class for Goalies, so if the Isles don’t trade for one, they may be looking for a 1-2 year rental like Lehtonen. He started 30 games this year and finished with a 15-14-3 record. He had a respectable GAA of 2.56 and a Save Percentage of .912 while recording one shutout on the year. If Greiss can figure things out, this would be a decent combo in net, with the two likely splitting games. Not the best option, but certainly could get you by this year, and if Söderström impresses, it wouldn’t take much for him to take over in net.
Another player that would likely only be signed to a 1-2 year deal, Bernier has been a backup for most of his career, never starting more than 58 games in a season. In 34 starts for Colorado this year he put up a record of 19-13-3 with a GAA of 2.85 and a Save Percentage of .913. In addition, he recorded 2 shutouts. Bernier is another risk, but given the brutally weak goalies that are available, he could be on of the best options.
Lou Lamoriello will likely be looking to trade for a goaltender rather than sign one through free agency. Some names to look out for: Juuse Saros (NSH), Pekka Rinne (NSH), Phillip Grubauer (WSH), Carter Hutton (STL). Nashville and Washington have dilemmas in net, and will both likely be looking to move one of their goaltenders. Look for Lamoriello to try and lock up a starting goalie, especially to try and impress John Tavares, who knows that is one of the biggest issues surrounding this team.
Overall, the Isles are a few moves away from being a legitimate contender. They don’t really need to make any changes to the forward group if Tavares stays, but we could see something done anyways. They absolutely need to sign one if not multiple defensemen, but could also trade for one. Carolina has so many solid defensemen, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Isles try to trade their first-round picks to try and acquire one of them. For now, all we can do is speculate while July 1st quickly approaches, but pretty soon, we’ll be seeing if this Lamoriello guy is for real.