Jordan Eberle: A future Kraken?

Jordan Eberle: A future Kraken? Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It promises to be a busy offseason for Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who must make some key personnel decisions through the expansion draft and free agency.

Here are the biggest questions the team faces before the next NHL season opens on Oct. 12:

1. Which free agents can be re-signed? The Islanders have approximately $66 million committed to 17 players for next season — plus $4.375 million with Andrew Ladd’s contract again being presumably buried — under the flat, $81.5 million salary cap. Casey Cizikas ($3.35 million cap hit), Kyle Palmieri ($4.65 million), Travis Zajac ($5.75 million) and defenseman Andy Greene ($700,000) are key unrestricted free agents. Goalie Ilya Sorokin ($2 million), defenseman Adam Pelech ($1.6 million), Anthony Beauvillier ($2.1 million) and Michael Dal Colle ($700,000) are among the restricted free agents and all are arbitration eligible. Pelech, in particular, is looking at a sizable raise as a top-pair defenseman.

2. Who will be exposed in the expansion draft? The expansion Seattle Kraken will select one player from each NHL team, excluding Vegas, on July 21 and this could be an opportunity for Lamoriello to shed salary. NHL teams are allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. Players with no-movement clauses must be protected while first- and second-year pros and unsigned draft choices are exempt. Right wing Jordan Eberle ($5.5 million cap hit through 2024) and defenseman Nick Leddy ($5.5 million cap hit through 2022) are likely to be among those left exposed.

3. What to do with the power play? The Islanders’ finished 20th in the NHL on the man advantage in the regular season at 18.8% (27-for-144) and that was the unit’s best statistical showing in coach Barry Trotz’s first three seasons. Scott Gomez was the assistant coach in charge of the power play in Trotz’s first season before Jim Hiller was imported from the Maple Leafs to take over these last two seasons. Another coaching change could be a possibility, but the Islanders need better power play personnel as well. A healthy Anders Lee will help for his net-front presence and having sharpshooter Oliver Wahlstrom on the power play full-time should also be an improvement. But Lamoriello may need to acquire another booming, power-play shot — defenseman Ryan Pulock should be effective in that role but it hasn’t worked out yet — especially if Palmieri, as expected, departs via free agency.

4. What happens to the fourth line if Casey Cizikas leaves? Cal Clutterbuck arrived from the Wild in 2013 and pretty much from that point, the Matt Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck identity line has been a crucial staple for the Islanders — minus Martin’s two seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2016-18. Any one of the trio has always seemed less effective without one or two of his on-ice partners available. Martin, 32, has three seasons remaining on a four-year, $6 million deal. Clutterbuck, 33, will be entering the last season of a five-year, $17.5 million deal. Cizikas is 30. Does Lamoriello commit to keeping this trio together or does he make room for center prospect Otto Koivula? Could he trade Clutterbuck if he doesn’t re-sign Cizikas?

5. When will they begin play at UBS Arena? The Islanders new, state-of-the-art, $1.2 billion arena at Belmont Park is targeted to open in November. But when in November? With an Oct. 12 target date for next season, that’s three weeks minimum into the new campaign before the new arena opens. The Islanders, understandably, are eager to maximize the home dates at their new home but does that mean they’ll open the season with a three-week or longer road trip? Or, will the Islanders start the season with a handful of games — and possibly some preseason games — at Nassau Coliseum? Will that be possible? The new Coliseum leaseholder will likely retro-fit the venerable barn into something with a smaller seating capacity with the Islanders no longer a tenant.

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