VANCOUVER – Lou Lamoriello goes into his second NHL Draft as Islanders’ boss with fewer picks and a worse selection position than last year. But, once again, it’s how the president and general manager navigates negotiations with his own free agents that looms largest over the organization.
The NHL Draft begins Friday night at Rogers Arena and the Islanders have the 23rd pick after taking forward Oliver Wahlstrom 11th and defenseman Noah Dobson 12th last year. Rounds two through seven are Saturday and the Islanders do not have picks in the third or fourth rounds after making eight selections overall last year.
“We said from Day 1 we wanted all our free agents back,” Lamoriello said on Thursday after the GMs’ meeting at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, in which expanded video replay was approved. “Fortunately, two are back. It’s our job to try and get the other two back.”
Goalie Robin Lehner, who won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday night and was a Vezina Trophy finalist, and captain Anders Lee are impending unrestricted free agents. The Islanders lost their last captain, John Tavares, to the Maple Leafs via free agency last year.
The Islanders have already re-signed center Brock Nelson to a six-year, $36-million deal and right wing Jordan Eberle to a five-year, $27.5 million deal. Lehner, who detailed his addiction and mental-health issues on the first day of training camp, is coming off a one-year, $1.5-million deal while Lee has completed a four-year, $15-million pact.
The free agent market opens on July 1 but impending UFAs can begin talking to other teams on Sunday.
“Robin would like to come back,” Lamoriello said. “We’d like Robin to come back. We’ll continue to work at it.”
Lamoriello added the same held true for Lee.
But asked if there had been any progress in the talks, Lamoriello said, “Those are tough questions for me to answer. Unless something is done, it’s not done.”
The holdup with Lee is almost certainly over the length of any new deal, while Lehner acknowledged in Las Vegas that concerns over his lasting sobriety are likely a factor in negotiations.
The Islanders are projected to have approximately $21 million in salary cap space, though the ceiling for 2019-20 has yet to be announced. It was initially expected to rise from $79 million to $83 million but now there are concerns the cap ceiling will be as low as $81.5 million.
That might spark a trade frenzy as teams look to shed contracts.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty as far as a lot of free agents and cap questions,” Lamoriello said. “We don’t know exactly what the final number is. We’re certainly focusing on the [draft] prospects.”
Forwards Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl are also impending UFAs.
Lamoriello reported qualifying offers had been extended to restricted free agent forwards Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, none of whom are arbitration eligible. Arbitration-eligible John Stevens was not extended a qualifying offer, making him a UFA.