Anders Lee. Brock Nelson. Jordan Eberle. Robin Lehner. The New York Islanders have four unrestricted free agents this off-season, and all of them have given the team reasons to keep them. After the outstanding season the Islanders had, it’s hard to see anyone go, but there’s always room for improvement.
With the Islanders’ productive defense but inconsistent offense, it’s clear where improvements can be made; yet, with the slim pickings among this year’s free agent candidates regarding what the Islanders need, it might be tricky.
Among the four unrestricted free agents, Nelson was the first UFA the team re-signed. As of Thursday, May 23, Nelson agreed to a 6-year deal worth $36 million. A life-long Islander, Nelson was drafted 30th overall in 2010 and is happy to stay with the team. According to interviews following the news of his new contract, Nelson views his position on the Islanders as a good fit for both himself and the team and knows he must push himself to reproduce his numbers from this past season every year.
“I think Lou made clear that Lou wants to win now. That’s the most exciting thing,” Nelson said in a phone interview with Andrew Gross. “I think I probably have to take more steps… push that offensively and increase the numbers while maintaining a two-way game.”
As the Isles are desperately in need of centers, re-signing Nelson was a necessity. Despite his streaky nature, he is a solid second-line center and proved this year that he can produce when pushed. Other free agents available, including Matt Duchene and Kevin Hayes, may be more skilled but are also older than Nelson, so acquiring them instead would not create as much net gain as hoped for or expected.
Lee is the next free agent Islanders’ management should focus on. After watching John Tavares walk away last summer, the Isles cannot lose another captain in free agency this year. Lee proved himself as a leader on and off the ice, and the team needs consistency in this second year under new management. Lee’s agent was often seen around the rink all season, so a deal should be in the works. Throughout his years of hard work and leadership on the Island, Lee has earned a long-term contract with a higher price tag.
Lehner is another free agent the team should re-sign. Although questions swirled about his mental health and playing abilities at the start of last season, he rose above everything to become one of the best goaltenders in the League. After posting 6 shutouts and winning the Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss in his first season on the team, the Islanders certainly want a repeat performance from him for several seasons. Everyone, from Lehner and his teammates to Lamoriello, has expressed their desire to re-sign Lehner, so his signing should be a matter of time.
Eberle, however, might not be quite what the Islanders need right now. Similar to Nelson’s case, Eberle plays a position that the Islanders do not have many healthy scratches for, but he also had a very disappointing season. His breakout performance in the playoffs series against Pittsburgh renewed some of the faith in him, but perhaps not enough to re-sign him this year. It didn’t help that he fell flat again against Carolina. Throughout previous seasons, Eberle brought a consistent scoring ability to the team, but he just didn’t click with Trotz’s system this year.
Was it simply a bad start under a new system, or is he better suited elsewhere?
Lamoriello has a very important Islanders off-season ahead of him. With almost $30,000,000 of cap space available, the Isles are in a good place to make offers to most free agents on the market. Hopefully, last year’s success and the team’s new overall winning attitude will encourage some higher-scoring players to consider Long Island.
Feature Image: Mark Zaleski/AP