Islanders: Four years of disappointing free agency windows

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

July 1 hasn’t been a good day for the New York Islanders of late.

On this day I’m typically refreshing my Twitter feed every second looking or news on New York Islanders signings. Thankfully, I can enjoy July 1 by celebrating Canada and not being disappointed by inactivity, poor decisions, or missed opportunities by the Islanders on free agent frenzy day.

It’s not to say that we don’t find good free agents, Thomas Greiss was a great free agency pick up. As was fellow goalie Robin Lehner a few years after Greiss.

But when it comes to free agency the top guys, the game changers, either don’t choose the Islanders, chose to leave, or the Isles sign the guys that get big money but do little else.

Which has left Islanders fans with a negative association of July 1. When you look over the last four years you can see why.

2016: Swing and a Miss

July 1, 2016, was an incredibly transformative day in New York Islanders history, for the wrong reasons.

We already knew that top-six forward Kyle Okposo wouldn’t be re-signed and would be allowed to walk. Fourth-line winger, and one-third of the best fourth line in hockey, Matt Martin, would also be allowed to leave the team as a free agent. And then came the news that Frans Nielsen was accepting a deal from the Detroit Red Wings.

That was three important parts of the Islanders squad gone. To replace them Garth Snow signed Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and P.A. Parenteau.

Jason Chimera had an alright season although it started slowly and P.A. Parenteau wouldn’t make it out of camp with the Isles handing Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier spots on the roster. That left Andrew Ladd.

The Isles signed him to now famously-bad seven-year $38.5 million deal ($5.5 million AAV). There were warning signs that Ladd was in decline and that this deal would be disastrous. Fast forward to 2020 and all the warning signs proved correct.

Ladd has played 181 of a possible 314 games and scored 72 points for the Islanders. The Isles are still on the hook for three more years of Ladd and $12 million in salary and signing bonus money.

2017: Done for the Day

It was clear that the 2017 free agency window wouldn’t be very busy for the New York Islanders. A few days before July 1, Arthur Staple, then working for Newsday, indicated that the Isles weren’t going to up to much if anything.

It seemed the Isles kicked the tires on Justin Williams but he wanted more than the Isles were willing to offer.

The two deals they signed were minor league deals for Seth Helgeson and Kane Lafranchise. They also acquired AHL goalie Krsiters Gudlevskis from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Carter Verhaeghe.

2018: The Long Con

After months of John Tavares trying to convince everyone in the Islanders fan base that there was nothing to worry about, he did the unspeakable and left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A decision he had seemingly been toying with for a long…long time.

The Isles would still bring in: Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, and Robin Lehner in the free agency window. Neither figured to have a big impact on the team. We also tend to forget the one-year $2 million deal for Jan Kovar who never cracked the team.

Losing Tavares and bringing in these players effectively sealed the Isles fate at the bottom of the league.

That was an ice-cold take for the ages.

Lehner put up monster numbers and was a finalist for the Vezina. Filppula allowed the Islanders to roll four competitive lines every night. And Leo was a glue guy who helped keep it all together. Combined with the rest of the team, how had something to prove, they put up an unthinkable 103 point season.

2019: 15 Minutes Short

At around 7 pm on June 30th, it seemed that Artemi Panarin was heading to the New York Islanders. He was the top free agent of the 2019 class and would fill the talent gap the Isles had after John Tavares’s departure the year prior. Cue the celebrations.

But 15 minutes before the free agent signing window opened we received crushing news. Panarin was going to New York, but to play for our rivals in Manhattan.

The Isles fan base was #crushed.

On top of that Robin Lehner was allowed to walk after putting up Vezina Trophy caliber numbers the year prior. Semyon Varlamov would be signed instead as a nod to future goalie Ilya Sorokin. Which just angered the fans more.

The Isles would still retain their captain Anders Lee but would sign him to a seven-year deal that they were desperately trying to avoid.