The Islanders lost out to the rival Rangers on Artemi Panarin, the top free-agent forward available, and fan-favorite goalie Robin Lehner now is with the Blackhawks. But the team avoided losing its captain to free agency after having that happen last year, and their new netminder is one whom Lou Lamoriello unsuccessfully pursued via trade last year.
So the Islanders’ president and general manager sounded nearly as happy as the re-signed Anders Lee on Monday after the NHL free-agent market opened at noon.
“Today is a wonderful day. My wife and I couldn’t be happier,” Lee said after agreeing to a seven-year, $49 million deal. “This is the place we always wanted to be.”
Former Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov agreed to a four-year, $20 million deal with the Islanders and Lehner agreed to a one-year, $5 million pact with the Blackhawks. Third-line center Valtteri Filppula returned to the Red Wings on a two-year, $6 million deal, but Lamoriello re-signed versatile depth forward Tom Kuhnhackl to a one-year, $850,000 deal.
The Islanders had reached agreement with center Brock Nelson on a six-year, $36 million deal and right wing Jordan Eberle on a five-year, $27.5 million deal earlier this offseason.
“We’re very pleased with the end result of this window because it was our intention to sign all of our players who potentially were free agents,” Lamoriello said. “We feel very good about our team. We feel good about our core players.”
Lee said his agent, Neil Sheehy, fielded calls from other teams but “his job for me was just to continue working with Lou.”
“We kept that communication going the whole time,” Lee said. “Lou and Neil had agreed to, in principle, some things that allowed Lou to go after some other things. But then things fell into place.”
The Islanders reportedly offered Panarin a seven-year, $87.5 million deal, but the playmaking left wing accepted a seven-year, $81.5 million contract from the Rangers.
Lee, 28, has served one season as the Islanders’ captain after John Tavares left via free agency for a seven-year, $77 million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018.
The left wing was a sixth-round pick of the Islanders in 2009 and blossomed into a top-line power forward, setting a career high with 40 goals in 2017-18. The native of Edina, Minnesota, became ingrained in the Long Island community, particularly through his charity work.
He had 28 goals and 23 assists in 82 games last season and has 152 goals and 106 assists in 425 games.
“It was extremely important,” Lamoriello said of re-signing Lee. “He is our captain and still is our captain. We didn’t bring him back. He never left.”
Sheehy echoed that via his Twitter account, writing that he never negotiated on Lee’s behalf with another team and there was “never a moment on this FA day where it was even a possibility that Anders Lee was going to leave the Islanders, no matter what else happened.”
“There was much interest and his $7M AAV allows Lou Lamoriello to pursue players who can help the Islanders win,” Sheehy tweeted. “Anders was staying with or without Panarin.”
Varlamov, 31, went 20-19-9 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage for the Avalanche last season, his eighth in Colorado. The Capitals selected him 23rd overall in the 2006 NHL Draft.
Varlamov eventually could serve as a mentor to countryman Ilya Sorokin, 23, the Islanders’ prized goalie prospect, who is committed to at least one more season in the KHL. Varlamov said he has known Sorokin, who led CSKA Moscow to the championship last season and was named the playoff MVP, for three years.
“He’s the best goalie playing in the KHL,” said Varlamov, adding that the chance to work with director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco attracted him to the Islanders.
Lamoriello called Varlamov’s relationship with Sorokin a “fringe benefit.”