The 2019-20 New York Islanders season ended on a disappointing note. After being the Cinderella story of the NHL, they followed their sweep of the Penguins in the first round by getting swept by the Hurricanes. The series loss to the Hurricanes came as a shock to the fanbase because of how well the team had performed prior to the series. The series loss also made the Islanders weaknesses look very big. The need for a premier goal scorer next to Mathew Barzal was clearly evident for the Islanders, and it was up to Hall of Fame General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, to come up big.
The answer for the Islanders seemed to be Artemi Panarin, however he ended up passing on Lamoriello’s offer which was upwards of $12 million. The move by Panarin was an even bigger blow to the Isles because he decided to take a paycut and sign with the New York Rangers.
After losing out on Panarin, Lamoriello decided to make the smart move by re-signing fan favorite and captain, Anders Lee, to a seven year contract worth $47 million. Lamoriello came to the decision to move on from the heart and soul of last year’s team, Robin Lehner. In return, he signed Semyon Varlamov to a four year contract. Even though Varlamov is a down-grade from Lehner, there are reasons as to why Varlamov was acquired. He mainly signed the former Avalanche because of his close relationship with Islanders goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin is currently the top goaltender in the KHL, and is primed to be a star in the NHL. The issue with Sorokin is whether or not he wants to come over to North America, hence why Varlamov was signed.
Once day one of free agency came to a close, many Islander fans began to lose hope. Shortly after recovering from missing out on Artemi Panarin, Sebastian Aho received an offer-sheet from the Montreal Canadiens. The offer-sheet was a shock to the NHL as an offer-sheet hadn’t happened since the post-2012 lockout. Although an offer sheet hadn’t been offered in about seven years, it was highly speculated around the league because of the amount of premier RFA talent that was available. Although the Hurricanes matched the Canadiens offer-sheet, Marc Bergevin had officially opened the door for many more to come. Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, and Patrik Laine are all options as RFA’s who could find new homes via an offer-sheet, although unlikely The best part about all of this is that the Islanders have been in the mix for some of these big names. Whether the Islanders can improve via the offer-sheet is up to Lou, but if he doesn’t, the team would start to be limited in terms of options.
The only options left for the Islanders if they fail to successfully complete an offer-sheet would be a trade or a free agent signing. The most talked about players on the Islanders trade block are in Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey. Both players may not be on the roster next season due to highly touted defensive prospects Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde quickly developing. Leddy, who has won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, would yield the higher return out of the two. Leddy could potentially be moved for either a top six forward, or multiple draft picks. Trading Leddy or Hickey for draft picks would help to clear up cap space for potential free agent signings, or offer-sheets.
The final option for the Islanders is to work with the remaining players available on the free agent market. Some of the notable players that can fit the Islanders system are Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, and Eric Fehr. The Islanders were left with a big hole down the middle when Valtteri Filppula signed a two-year deal with his former club, Detroit Red Wings. Since the Islanders don’t have a lot of center depth in their organization, this is a huge hole to fill. Boyle, Brassard, or Fehr can all be potential options as the third line center.
The main target that has been discussed regarding the Islanders is Brian Boyle. Boyle has made headlines in the past few seasons due to his Leukemia diagnosis. Thankfully, Boyle is now in remission from Leukemia and has played well in the past couple of seasons. Boyle has been known as a tough player to play against throughout his career, and has helped the Devils, Maple Leafs, Lightning, and Predators in their playoff runs recently. The addition of Boyle as a third line center would give the Islanders a tremendous boost on their special teams, and would add some more experience on their third line.
The other potential targets are Derick Brassard and Eric Fehr. Fehr would be a slight risk for the Islanders, as he has not had a lot of success throughout his career. He has played for the Capitals, Maple Leafs, Sharks, Jets, and Wild. Fehr could make sense for the Islanders because he would be a very cheap option, and could help out on the penalty kill. Fehr played under Barry Trotz’s system and a reunion could be beneficial for him and his play.
The third option for the Islanders could be Derick Brassard. Brassard has played in the NHL for 12 seasons for the Blue Jackets, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Panthers, and Avalanche. Brassard has a lot of experience and has shown that he can perform at a high level. From 2014-2016, Brassard put up 118 points for the Rangers while playing in a top six role. Brassard would be a big help for the Islanders on the special teams, and he would provide some experience for the team’s younger members. Brassard can be a leader in the locker room because he knows what it takes to win. Don’t be surprised if Derick Brassard plays on Long Island next season.
So far, the Islanders have not met expectations this offseason. They have not improved the roster from last season and there’s a clear need for more offense. Despite not landing any new talent, there is still a lot of time left before the season starts. If the Islanders want to improve their team and stay competitive in an extremely talented Metropolitan Division, they must acquire a game changing top-six forward, and add to their center core. The ball is in Lou Lamoriello’s court, and it’s up to him to save the Islanders from falling back into their old ways.