Three keys to a successful Islanders offseason
This will be the final installment of the “Three’s” series for the New York Islanders, their season and the upcoming offseason. The Islanders go into this offseason with a great sense of pride but also an uneasy feeling as four of their mainstays could be gone from the team.
Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Robin Lehner, Val Filppula and Brock Nelson are all UFAs, with Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle becoming RFAs this season. It’s very unlikely that the Islanders bring back Filppula due to his age but there’s a chance they can bring back pretty much everyone else. Let’s take a look at how the Islanders can have a successful offseason.
Get a big fish
The Islanders need to re-sign some of their guys but their number one priority is luring in one of the big free agent fish swimming in the free agency waters this offseason. Some of the bigger fish are Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene.
The Islanders probably won’t even take a flier on Karlsson and Bobrovsky (even though they’ve been linked to Bobs) but they will most certainly make a splash to boost their Top Six. The most intriguing would be Panarin, as he’s the top forward available and wanted to play in the NY Metro area. However, the most realistic would probably be Jeff Skinner. Skinner is around the same age as Panarin and will cost a bit less even though he had a career year with the Buffalo Sabres (40 goals, 23 assists, 63 points).
Another realistic possibility, although it is a bit of a reach considering the potential circumstances, is an offer sheet towards Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It makes too much sense for Lou Lamoriello not to offer sheet Marner. Marner will be worth somewhere around $9M so an overpayment for a marquee player would be necessary. Even if the Leafs match the offer sheet, it puts them in a huge conundrum considering they still have to pay Morgan Rielly and don’t have much cap room to sign any of their younger guys. It would be a good shot at Lamoriello’s former team for him to do that.
Re-sign Lee and Lehner
Sure it would be nice to re-sign Brock Nelson, who had a breakout year and Jordan Eberle, who showed what he could do in the postseason despite having a down year in the regular season, but it is crucial to re-sign Captain Anders Lee and goaltender Robin Lehner.
The Islanders absolutely cannot afford to lose their Captain two seasons in a row and Lee is the heart and soul of the team. Lee is currently working on an extension so the only issue there will be the length of the contract and the term. As for Lehner, his agent and the Isles haven’t had extended talks yet but something should get done soon.
Lehner is a fan favorite and one of the new guys who has fully embraced becoming a New York Islander. He encompasses everything you want in a player and now that he is clean and sober is a fantastic goalie. He’s become a fan favorite because of his past struggles and redemption, and he’s leading the way for athletes with mental health issues.
Shore up the bottom six/bottom pairing
One of the most overlooked factors of this offseason is the fact that the Islanders need to shore up their bottom six and bottom pairing on defense. With Nick Leddy potentially on the move for a top six forward, the Islanders either need to bring someone up (Sebastian Aho comes to mind) to play with Johnny Boychuk or they need to go out and get a veteran to fill that void (unless Thomas Hickey comes back, and comes back healthy).
As for the bottom six, Val Filppula is probably gone, and Cal Clutterbuck has a long road ahead as he’s having back surgery to repair slipped disks. Andrew Ladd is on the mend with a torn knee and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team.
If they can score either a Brett Connolly or a Brandon Tanev to shore up the bottom six while also keeping Michael Dal Colle up to fill that third line winger, this team will have a ton of talent at forward. On the back end, a guy like Deryk Engelland or Ben Lovejoy could be that stopgap veteran D man that the Isles could use while their young guns (Noah Dobson, Bode Wilde, Parker Wotherspoon) hone their craft in either juniors or the AHL.
It’s not rocket science to figure out that the Islanders are still a very flawed team. They supremely overachieved this season and while the season had a ton of joy in it, we need to be realistic about what kind of team is currently on the ice. The Islanders need more talent up front, first and foremost, and should be players in the free agent market.
They also need to re-sign some of their bigger players, although not all, and get a few more veteran presences on their team to help up front and on the back end. If they can accomplish these three things, they’ll be set to have an even better season in 2019-20. Now the long wait begins until October.h/t T
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