Islanders’ Top Free Agent Targets For 2020-2021
By Johnny Berman
The New York Islanders have some significant needs this off-season. Here are some top free agent targets who can address those needs.
The New York Islanders might have been gearing up for another off-season, but as it turns there is still some hockey left to be played. That being said, it is never too early to start thinking about the off-season. So with that, here are the Islanders’ top free-agent targets.
What better way for the Islanders to enact revenge on John Tavares’ new team than to steal one of its top defensemen? Sure Tyson Barrie is coming off somewhat of a down year in Toronto compared to his previous two 50-plus point seasons in Colorado. Still, he recorded his seventh consecutive season with at least 25 assists. And, at just 28 years of age, he likely has several more productive seasons left in him.
Last year, the Maple Leafs dished out hefty contracts to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Not to mention, they already have John Tavares’ $11 million annual cap hit on the books for the next five seasons. This past February, they extended the contract of defenseman Jake Muzzin for the next four seasons with a $5.625 million annual cap hit. With all this spending, it appears the Maple Leafs will have difficulty holding onto Barrie.
Should Barrie be the odd man out in Toronto, he could be an immense upgrade to the Islanders’ defensive corps. The last time that any Islander defenseman recorded more points in a season than Barrie was in the 2016-17 season. Coincidentally, that was the best season of Nick Leddy’s career. The Islanders have some solid young blue-liners in Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, and Adam Pelech, but they could benefit from the offensive production and veteran leadership that Barrie would bring.
Back in December, I argued that the Isles should trade for Mikael Granlund. Obviously they did not. But now that he is set to be a UFA, the Islanders will have another chance to snag him. Granlund is coming off what could be the worst season of his career. His 17 goals and 13 assists gave him his lowest point total since his 27-game rookie season back in 2012-13. As such, it is likely that he is on his way out of Nashville.
So if he is available, why should the Islanders consider him? One reason is that even during his down year, he still recorded more than twice the points that Leo Komarov did. Therefore, worst case, Granlund is a big upgrade on the third line. Meanwhile, best case, Granlund returns to top form where he recorded consecutive seasons of at least 67 points with the Minnesota Wild. That was only a couple years ago, so it’s certainly possible that Granlund could re-find his offensive touch. If so, he could easily be a top-six forward for the Islanders.
It turns out there is a better way to enact revenge on the Maple Leafs: sign two of their free agents. Kyle Clifford, the long-time Los Angeles King, was sent to Toronto at this season’s trade deadline. Though he shares a name with a friendly, big, red dog, Kyle is no friendly player. In fact, he has recorded at least 111 hits in each of his ten seasons in the league. He even reached 200 hits in the 2014-15 season.
If the Islanders choose to let Derrick Brassard walk this summer, there could be a need for depth at the forward position. Clifford won’t record quite as many points as Brassard, but he will be a bigger presence on defense. Furthermore, he is three years younger than Brassard and may just be approaching the prime of his career. Clifford could certainly help in the short-term while the boys in Bridgeport continue to develop.
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Ultimately, before the Islanders even consider these players or any other UFA, they have some business to take care of with their own RFAs. Mat Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews are all restricted free agents in need of new contracts. After Lou irons out these contracts, he can then focus on external targets. Thus, Lou better get ready for what promises to be a busy off-season.