The New York Islanders have swung and missed in two straight offseasons, just barely failing to sign two of the most prized unrestricted free agents in NHL history in Artemi Panarin and John Tavares. This upcoming offseason, however, General Manager Lou Lamoriello will need to prioritize signing the Islanders’ young restricted free agents, Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews. Lamoriello already made a splash at the trade deadline, acquiring Jean-Gabriel Pageau to be the third-line center for the future; nonetheless, after signing him and potentially signing Barzal, Pulock, and Toews, Lamoriello will not have the nearly as much cap space with which to operate as he did in his first two offseasons as the Islanders’ General Manager. Thus, it is more important than ever that he maximizes the value of the minimal cap space. Here are two players that could potentially be undervalued free agent signings for the Islanders who could make a significant impact on the Islanders next season.
To find the first skater, you need not look farther than New York City. Currently playing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast has had a valuable impact defensively for our rivals. This season, both his Expected Goals Against per 60 Minutes (xGA) and his Corsi Against per 60 Minutes (CA/60) are approximately one standard deviation above average, and most notably, his Expected Goals For per 60 Minutes (xGF/60) is above-average, which proves his impact as a two-way player.
As the Islanders have struggled thus far to find reliable wingers for Pageau, Fast seems like the perfect fit on the right side. Compared to Leo Komarov, one of Pageau’s current linemate options, Fast’s two-way impact is much stronger. In fact, Komarov’s impact this season has been below-average on both ends of the ice. This type of production, or lack thereof, could hold Pageau, one of the stronger two-way centers in the NHL, back in the future. According to Cap Friendly, the Islanders have approximately $3.1 million in cap space, and Jesper Fast is predicted to have a cap hit at approximately $3.06 million. Although Fast would require nearly all of the Islanders’ cap space this offseason, Pageau desperately needs a winger, and a cheap, two-way right-wing such as Fast seems like an ideal option as a low-cost free agent signing this offseason.
The other option, who is even cheaper than Fast, is Kyle Clifford of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As both Matt Martin and Derick Brassard may have played their final game as a New York Islander, the Islanders will seek a bottom-six winger to replace them. Moreover, no bottom-six winger on the roster, including Ross Johnston, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Komarov, has been as valuable this season as Clifford. Lamoriello desperately needs an above replacement-level forward that can get the job done, and based on his production this season, Clifford seems like a near-certain bet to exceed the production of Martin and Brassard. On the very aggressive “E = mc2” line with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, Clifford can provide both offensive and defensive value. Whereas Martin, the current member left wing of the fourth line, is above-average only defensively, Clifford has been above average in xGF/60, Corsi For per 60 Minutes (CF/60), xGA/60, and CA/60 this season.
Clifford seems to be the perfect fit in the line, and thus, he would be a valuable pickup for the Islanders. As mentioned before, with only $3.1 million in cap space, the Islanders need to look for undervalued players on the market. Clifford’s projected cap hit is a mere $1.782 million, which would allow the Islanders to sign an additional cheap player as well to fill another role via free agent signings. As the Islanders look to compete once again in 2020, Clifford seems to be a low-risk, high-reward winger.
While losing everyday players may appear to be detrimental, Lamoriello has the opportunity to use these losses to his advantage this offseason. As many of the Islanders’ current bottom-six forwards have provided below-average production, Fast and Clifford are valuable options for the Islanders. Lamoriello can sign Fast as a means of removing Komarov’s below-average, often detrimental production from the lineup, and he can sign Clifford as an ideal replacement for Martin, who does not impact the offensive side of the ice nearly as much as Clifford. Altogether, these two forwards can be subtle ways for Lamoriello to make free agent signings this offseason while retaining enough cap space to re-sign the young stars on the Islanders.
*All data is from Evolving Hockey*