No, it’s not too early for the Islanders to start thinking about 2021.
That’s when the NHL’s 32nd franchise, Seattle, will conduct its expansion draft, with the same rules applying as when the Vegas Golden Knights selected in June, 2017.
Of course, many things can change between now and then but, at present, the Islanders seem well situated to keep their most valued assets without exposing themselves to too much risk.
All NHL teams except Vegas, which will be exempt from the expansion draft, will be able to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters (forwards and defensemen) and one goalie.
All players with no-movement clauses must be protected unless they waive that right.
All first- and second-year players and unsigned draft choices are automatically protected.
Seattle will select one player from each team for a total of 30. They must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.
Currently, the Islanders have no players with no-movement clauses under contract for 2021-22, though that figures to change if captain Anders Lee signs an extension. Ditto for Jordan Eberle and, possibly, Brock Nelson.
And, by the expansion draft, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and defenseman Ryan Pulock, all considered big pieces of the franchise’s future, will presumably be on their next contracts, meaning they’ll need to be protected. Center Casey Cizikas, beloved by coach Barry Trotz for the identity he brings to the Islanders, will also presumably be on his next contract with the organization.
Also, by 2021, blue-chip defense prospect Devon Toews should finally be on the Islanders’ roster and worthy of being protected.
From the current roster, forwards Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, Leo Komarov, Ross Johnston and Andrew Ladd and defensemen Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield would need to be protected if the Islanders so desired. But, of that group, only Bailey, Ladd and Mayfield have contracts that go past 2021-22 so even if the Islanders lost one of those players, it likely wouldn’t be a long-term loss. Plus, the Islanders won’t mind losing a player over 30 with a big salary cap number.
Of course, a quick influx of young talent such as forwards Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows and defensemen Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde could complicate the Islanders’ protection plans.
As for goalies, both Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner could be gone by 2021 and the organization is hopeful Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin is in tow by then. If he’s playing, he’ll be protected.
The priority set by incoming president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz to immediately tighten the Islanders’ defensive play after allowing an NHL-worst 293 goals last season has been evident, Thursday night’s 6-2 lackluster loss at Pittsburgh notwithstanding.
The Islanders allowed 81 goals through their first 27 games — 3.0 goals per game compared to 3.6 last season — and that has had a direct impact on how the team’s goalies can play.
“It just cuts down on some of my reads,” Greiss said. “Last year, there were four or five options. This year, maybe one or two. It makes it very easy and, at times, I can be more aggressive to the shooter. I definitely like it more. No goalie likes to get scored on all the time. It can be fun if it’s an open game back and forth with lots of chances but, most of the time, it’s not.”
Nobody asked me but…I’d name the new NHL franchise the Seattle Pilots as a nod to the 1969 baseball team (now the Milwaukee Brewers), which, in itself, was a nod to that city’s ties to the aviation industry. There’s precedent: MLB’s Colorado Rockies took their name from a failed NHL franchise, who are now the New Jersey Devils. My favorite among the 13 apparent finalists is the Sockeyes, though the Rainiers works on a couple of levels and historically.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists against the Islanders on Thursday. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, he is now fourth on the all-time list of players who have scored the most against the Islanders, a list that has a strong Penguins’ slant:
Player (Years active): Games against Islanders Goals Assists Points
1. Jaromir Jagr (1990-2017): 112 61 94 155
2. Mario Lemieux (1984-97, 2000-05) 72 50 81 131
3. Mark Recchi (1988-2011) 112 43 77 120
4. Sidney Crosby (2005-) 65 36 77 113
5. Wayne Gretzky (1979-99) 55 33 65 98