Lou Lamoriello was happy to create salary-cap space for his Islanders, just not happy it came at the expense of losing core players Jordan Eberle and defenseman Nick Leddy.
"We were pleased that we were able to get a little relief, but we certainly have a lot of work to do," the Islanders president and general manager said on Saturday as the NHL concluded its two-day, entry draft. "That’s a work in progress."
The Islanders, without making a transaction on Friday or Saturday, selected one player apiece in rounds 2-7. Four of them are Europeans, including three from Finland, starting with center Aatu Raty, selected at No. 52. The Islanders traded their first-round pick to the Devils on April 7 for impending unrestricted free agents Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
The free agent market opens on Wednesday and the Islanders have $17.6 million in space under the flat, $81.5 million cap ceiling. Lamoriello traded Leddy to the Red Wings and Andrew Ladd to the Coyotes, then lost Eberle to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. All three carry cap charges of $5.5 million
But now Lamoriello needs to replace a top-line right wing and top-four defenseman while re-signing key restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier, defenseman Adam Pelech and goalie Ilya Sorokin — qualifying offers will come on Monday — and also try to re-sign Palmieri and impending UFA fourth-line center Casey Cizikas.
"We certainly would have liked to have kept both players," Lamoriello said of Leddy and Eberle. "No different than we would have liked to kept Devon Toews [traded to the Avalanche] a couple of years ago. The expansion is what it is. We knew we would lose a player. We tried to pro-act a little because we thought we’d get the opportunity to get cap space."
Lamoriello said he may still free up more cap space.
Beyond the Islanders’ UFAs and RFAs, Lamoriello could pursue a high-end UFA such as Gabriel Landeskog if the top-line wing cannot reach an agreement with the Avalanche.
Lamoriello reportedly also has interest in defenseman Ryan Suter — who played for coach Barry Trotz with the Predators — and Zach Parise, a former Devil while Lamoriello ran that organization. The Wild just bought both out of the final four seasons of their twin, 13-year, $98 million deals.
"It depends upon the set of circumstances," Lamoriello said of creating more cap space. "If we can free up more cap space, we will certainly do that without hurting our team. We’ve lost two players. We have, hopefully, no intention of losing any more. Right now, we’re focused on the signings. If we need more cap room, then we’ll have to make other decisions."
The Islanders have reached the NHL final four two straight seasons, losing both times to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Lightning. They will open UBS Arena at Belmont Park on Nov. 20 against the Flames.
But that necessitates a season-opening, 13-game road trip, the longest in franchise history.
"I can assure you, when I saw the schedule, I went for a long walk, never mind the long road trip," Lamoriello said. "It’s going to be challenging."