An Islanders’ offseason that can best be described as sluggish so far is far from over, especially since it’s unclear when next season will begin.
President and general manager Lou Lamoriello has said his offseason focus is on keeping his core together. But outside improvements may be needed to push further after reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993 before bowing to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Lightning in six games.
"Our division has been one of the more successful divisions in the game and in recent memory," captain Anders Lee said on a Zoom teleconference with the media on Monday. "Top to bottom, it’s a tough division and, honestly, I don’t see that changing at all."
Yet there have been no significant additions to the roster since the free-agent market opened on Oct. 9 – ex-Devils goalie Cory Schneider’s one-year, $700,000 deal has yet to be formally announced and he’s most likely ticketed for the AHL, anyway – and top-four defenseman Devon Toews was traded to the Avalanche for two second-round picks to help alleviate the Islanders’ salary-cap crunch.
Restricted free agents Mathew Barzal and top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock, who has an arbitration hearing set for Nov. 6, still must be re-signed.
It will be tough to do that and add other pieces given the Islanders currently have approximately $8.9 million in space under the flat $81.5 million salary cap.
The Islanders would do well to get Barzal signed to a two- or three-year bridge deal at around $7 million per season. Pulock, who had a cap hit of $2.65 million last season, could ask for around $6 million per season in arbitration.
Lamoriello indicated re-signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Andy Greene, most likely to pair with Noah Dobson with Toews traded, was a strong option. UFA fourth-liner Matt Martin is also a good bet to wind up back with the Islanders.
The hold up right now is that there are many teams still looking to move salary and few teams willing to take it on.
The free agent market is favoring shorter-term deals as players look a couple of seasons down the road when the salary cap may rise again. Mike Hoffman, one of the top UFA forwards available, still has yet to sign a deal.
Trades are also difficult to come by and it is very much a buyer’s market.
So, for instance, if Lamoriello was looking to trade defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who has two seasons remaining on his deal and a $6 million cap hit, the Islanders would likely have to include a high draft pick and possibly a prospect as well without getting much in return.
The good news for Lamoriello, who always preaches using the time available, is that the offseason will almost certainly drag past the league’s target date of Jan. 1 to start next season. Other than Pulock’s arbitration hearing, there are no pressing deadlines for Lamoriello to meet.