Much of the money Lou Lamoriello has spent on free agents in his time as Islanders president and general manager has been to re-sign his own.
That’s again expected to be the case when the NHL’s free agent market opens Friday at noon.
The Islanders did not place any players on waivers on Thursday, signaling they will not be buying anybody out to free up more money under the flat $81.5 million salary cap.
The Islanders have approximately $9 million in cap space, though they can exceed the upper limit by 10% during the offseason.
"We’ll just have to wait and see to see exactly what we do," Lamoriello said on Wednesday after the conclusion of the two-day NHL Draft when asked if he would need to move salary to accomplish his offseason goals.
The Islanders could still use a scoring wing who could also bolster the power play. Lamoriello went hard after Artemi Panarin last offseason to fill that role before he signed with the rival Rangers.
Instead, Lamoriello re-signed his own top-six forwards in captain Anders Lee (seven years, $49 million), Brock Nelson (six years, $36 million) and Jordan Eberle (five years, $27.5 million) while bringing in goalie Semyon Varlamov (four years, $20 million) and Derick Brassard (one year, $1.2 million). He also quickly signed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a six-year, $30 million extension after acquiring the potential unrestricted free agent from the Senators on Feb. 24.
Lamoriello’s first offseason running the Islanders in 2018 was marked by former captain John Tavares bolting for the Toronto Maple Leafs via free agency, though bottom-six forwards Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl and Valtteri Filppula and goalie Robin Lehner were imported.
This offseason, key fourth-liner Matt Martin, defenseman Andy Greene, a late-season acquisition from the Devils, Brassard and Kuhnhackl as well as goalie Thomas Greiss can be UFAs. Greiss will almost certainly not be retained with Varlamov returning and highly-touted Russian Ilya Sorokin finally signed.
Lamoriello’s priority, though, will be re-signing restricted free agents Mathew Barzal, a budding star as the top-line center, top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock and fellow blue-liner Devon Toews, the latter two who are arbitration eligible.
Lamoriello, in general terms, has spoken of wanting to re-sign his own free agents in his two media availabilities since the Islanders were ousted from the Eastern Conference finals by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Lightning on Sept. 17.
"We’re in the same position we were as far as what our intentions are," Lamoriello said. "Whatever we have to get done, hopefully we will. We’ll just take it a day at a time."
The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the NHL to halt its regular season on March 12 before the postseason was able to start on Aug. 1, has radically altered the financial landscape for doing business this NHL offseason.
The NHL is targeting Jan. 1 to start the new season but it’s unclear if fans will be back in the arenas by then, or when that will be possible.
NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton believes the salary cap could remain flat for three seasons, which will force some teams to shed salary and likely depress the free agent market.
"I always look at it in terms of chaos," said Lawton, a former NHL player, agent and general manager. "From a chaos level, I think it will be as high as we’ve ever seen. The last real massive chaotic event was when we transitioned from the non-salary cap world to the salary cap world (in 2005). There will be tons and tons of chaos and that bodes well for the organizations that are really well run, like the New York Islanders are."
Islanders Potential Free Agent Targets
Mike Hoffman — The left wing fits the Islanders’ need for scoring help up front and on the power play, having scored 60 of his 172 career goals on the man advantage. He’ll be 31 by the time the next season starts and had a cap hit of $5.2 million last season for the Panthers, both which could be problematic for Islanders.
Jesper Fast — The Swedish right wing, 28, certainly fits the mold of a Lou Lamoriello/Barry Trotz player with his hockey smarts, tenacity on the forecheck and on the walls, strong defensive play and off-ice leadership qualities. One of the most valuable Rangers over the past six seasons but looking for a nice upgrade from his $1.85 million cap hit.
Evgenii Dadonov — Would bring similar qualities as Hoffman, his Panthers’ teammate. The Russian right wing has 25 of his 81 goals on the power play the past three seasons since returning to the NHL. He’s 31 and carried a $4 million cap hit last season.