TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

Islanders' Lou Lamoriello has some decisions to make ahead of this summer's expansion draft

Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello observes

Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello observes practice during Training Camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The trade deadline having passed on Monday, it’s now time to look ahead to the next potential seismic roster shift. That would be this summer’s expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken.

The Islanders, after being forced to trade defenseman Devon Toews last offseason, again face a salary-cap crunch under the flat $81.5 million ceiling. They have top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech, goalie Ilya Sorokin, Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle as impending restricted free agents and Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and defensemen Andy Greene and Braydon Coburn as impending unrestricted free agents.

So, president and general manager Lou Lamoriello may be forced to dangle some top-six forwards or potentially goalie Semyon Varlamov in the July 21 expansion draft to shed salary. He targeted trade rentals in pre-deadline deals for Palmieri and Zajac from the Devils and Coburn from the Senators, though Lamoriello did not rule out re-signing any or all of them.

"We have a unique year other than the flat cap and the type of year we’ve gone through," Lamoriello said. "We’ve got expansion. So, expansion will determine some of the decisions you also make."

The Kraken will select one player from 30 teams — Vegas, an expansion team in 2017, is exempt — for a total of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. Two forwards and one defenseman must be left unprotected.

Players with no-movement clauses are exempt from the draft. So are all first- and second-year pros or those who did not play 27 games this season or 54 games combined between this season and last season.

Here are the Islanders Lamoriello currently must consider protecting, along with their cap hit:

Forwards – Anders Lee ($7 million), Mathew Barzal ($7 million), Brock Nelson ($6 million), Jordan Eberle ($5.5 million), Jean-Gabriel Pageau ($5 million), Josh Bailey ($5 million), Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5 million), Leo Komarov ($3 million), Matt Martin ($1.5 million).

Defensemen – Nick Leddy ($5.5 million), Ryan Pulock ($5 million), Scott Mayfield ($1.4 million).

Goalies – Semyon Varlamov ($5 million), Ken Appleby ($725,000).

Lamoriello is not likely to expose Lee, his injured captain, nor deplete his center depth by exposing Barzal, Nelson or Pageau.

But either Eberle or Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander, could be among the players left exposed based on their cap hits. The same goes for Leddy.

Leaving Varlamov exposed would be risky given how he’s played in his two seasons with the Islanders. But Sorokin has shown he’s ready to handle a bigger workload and will certainly seek a significant raise from his one-year, $2 million deal.

Still, Lamoriello seemingly indicated he will protect Varlamov by recently re-signing Appleby, a 26-year-old minor-league goalie with three games of NHL experience, to a two-way deal and thereby making him draft eligible.

Small world

It’s a standard question to ask a newly-acquired player: Who do you know on the team?

Defenseman Braydon Coburn, acquired from the Senators this past Sunday, said he felt familiar with his new teammates in general, having played last season for the Lightning, who eliminated the Islanders in the Eastern Conference final en route to their Stanley Cup win. And Coburn spent almost nine seasons in the same division with the Flyers.

But Coburn, from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, specifically mentioned Jordan Eberle, from Regina, Saskatchewan, and defenseman Thomas Hickey, from Calgary. They were all part of a summer workout group.

"A guy who’s been there and gone all the way, it just adds more depth to our team," Eberle said. "Even training back in Calgary in the summers. He was always there for summer skates and in the gym. He’s one of the harder workers I know. He’s very, very strong. Just a very good veteran guy to add."

Three in a row

The Islanders had a bit of a statistical anomaly for this point of the season when three players scored their first regular-season goals for the team in three straight games. Typically, that’s something more likely to occur toward the start of the season.

Even more statistically strange, all three were ex-Devils, including Smithtown’s Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, who were acquired on April 7.

Former Devils captain Andy Greene — who had scored two goals in last season’s playoffs — started the streak in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on April 9. Palmieri opened the scoring in a 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers at the Coliseum two days later with a power-play goal. And Zajac scored the lone goal in Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Boston.

Per team statistician Eric Hornick, the Islanders had a similar five-game streak in October, 1972, the first month of their first season in the NHL.

New York Sports