For Isles fans, the free agency period has felt a lot like the March trade deadline, and standing pat is still no fun.
Since the free agency period began on July 1, the New York Islanders haven’t done much. Throughout the spring, the team re-signed Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle, along with a handful of other two-way, mostly minor league, free agents within the franchise such as Arnaud Durandeau and Tanner Fritz. Captain Anders Lee finally re-signed in what felt like the eleventh hour, and Tom Kuhnhackl signed another one-year contract. However, fan-loved Robin Lehner left for the Chicago Blackhawks, and Valtteri Filppula returned to the Detroit Red Wings.
After Lou Lamoriello unsuccessfully went all in for Artemi Panerin, the Islanders were almost silent throughout the manic Monday that opens free agency. So far, the only signings outside of the franchise have been goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Jared Coreau.
Varlamov, who left Colorado for New York, fills the second goalie spot as an older version of Lehner. At 31, his save percentage last year was .909, and his goals against average was 2.87. Of his 49 games played, he won 20 and saw 9 into overtime or a shootout. For the last several years with the Colorado Avalanche, he only played half a season, so Varlamov should pair well with Thomas Griess in the Islanders’ two-goalie system. Coreau has spent the last five years league-hopping between the Detroit Red Wings and their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, meaning he will probably find a home in Bridgeport for now. Coreau posted his best stats five years ago in the AHL, a .927 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average.
Picking up two goalies in this free agency period puts the Islanders in an awkward spot. With the several re-signings and new contracts, the team is running out of cap space but still needs a center to replace Filppula. The Isles also need to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle, and Joshua Ho-Sang. As well, Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck are both questionable, given their long-term injuries. Clutterbuck in particular could possibly be out until September with the large-scale surgery he needs on his back. That leaves the Islanders with at least one open spot in all three forward positions as the team currently stands.
The options left on the free agency market? Slim pickings remain, but a few could fit with the Isles. At the top of the list is Brayden Point. The 23-year-old had 92 points (41 goals, 51 assists) in 74 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s exactly the kind of fast-skating forward the team needs on the top two lines to spark a struggling offense. On a line with Barzal, Point could light up the scoreboard for the Island.
In the Western Conference, Mikko Rantanen of the Avalanche is also available. He had 87 points (31 goals, 56 assists) in 74 games last season, and comes from the same team as Varlamov. Though not exactly a selling point, the former-team bond could allow for faster chemistry and transition. Patrick Laine of the Winnipeg Jets had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games and played a similar team-first, defense-first mindset for the Jets. Both he and Rantanen are also in their early twenties and could pair amazingly with Barzal for the Islanders.
Of course, free agency is not the only place to find solid players to fill the Islanders’ holes. Bridgeport is full of young talent that deserves to be in the NHL as well. Just look at how well Devon Toews performed last season and remember Oliver Wahlstrom, Otto Koivula, and Bobo Carpenter, among others, are waiting for their chance.
Featured Image: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images