A look at the 5 key unrestricted free agents for the NY Islanders this off-season

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five
New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five / Jaylynn Nash/GettyImages
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Soon after Paul Stastny's overtime goal lifted the Carolina Hurricanes to a Game 6 win over the New York Islanders at UBS Arena, fans were onto what went wrong for the team during the 2022-23 season and what changes were needed to the roster heading into next year.

The Islanders have five unrestricted free agents (excluding Parker Wotherspoon), and a compelling argument can be made for each to come back as we head into the summer. However, at the same time, it's hard to bring back the same group that was unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs and was consistently inconsistent throughout the 2022-23 season.

These were all significant contributors, and the Islanders will have to weigh bringing them back with the cost of finding their replacements in free agency or through trades. Another consideration will be whether the younger players in the organization are ready to take on added responsibility and assume one of the spots if any of these players left for elsewhere.

And with that, here are the 5 key free agents for the Islanders this off-season.

Zach Parise

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders
Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

If Parise wants to be back on the same financial terms he's played on during the last two seasons, it's hard to envision the Islanders or any other NHL team not wanting him on their roster, given the $750K AAV cap hit he's had a result of being paid by the Minnesota Wild following his buyout before the 2021-22 season.

The production from the ageless ironman has been among the best bargains in the league over the last two seasons and has afforded the team to spend cap space elsewhere. During the 2022-23 season, Parise played all 82 games for the second consecutive season with the Islanders and finished the year with 21 goals, becoming the first 38-year-old in team history to score more than 20 in a season. He was also the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.

Parise is likely to take a step back and talk things through with his family before making a decision if he wants to come back for his 19th NHL season. As he still chases that elusive Stanley Cup, you wonder if it's between the Islanders and retirement for Parise or, after two seasons on Long Island, he'd be open to a different situation if it offers a better chance to win with similar playing time.

Scott Mayfield

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders
Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Before the start of the season, it felt inevitable that this would be Mayfield's final season with the Islanders after nine seasons. The team-friendly deal signed by the 6'5 right-handed defenseman would expire, and he would simply price his way out of being on the Islanders' blueline next season.

In his contract year, Mayfield set a career-high in goals (6) and points (24) as the Islanders' defense factored in the scoring more so than in previous seasons. He also played all 82 games and had to step up into a more prominent role when the team lost Adam Pelech to injury in December.

Even with his improved regular season numbers, Mayfield's biggest value is in the post-season, where his physical presence becomes more of an asset, as defenders can take extra liberties at times against forwards. Look no further than the way Mayfield helped kill a key penalty by pinning the puck along the boards for over 20 seconds late in the 3rd period to protect a lead.

But Mayfield has let be explicitly known how much he and his family love Long Island, making it reasonable to assume he'd be willing to accept another hometown discount to remain with the Islanders. “I love it here,” Mayfield said back in November. “My wife loves it here. The community is great. The team is great. The ownership is great. We love everything about the Islanders. It’s part of the business, and now it’s all about just playing my game."

His new deal won't be for $1.45M AAV, but 3-4 year contract at around $3-3.5M AAV could end up being the sweet spot on both sides given what it would cost the Islanders to replace him on D.

Pierre Engvall

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders
Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The tall and lean speedy forward did everything he could to prove worthy of being brought back from the Islanders after being acquired at the trade deadline for a 2024 third-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being benched in the third period in his first few games with the team as he got adapted to the team's style of play, Engvall flourished on a line with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri that was by far and away the team's most consistent through the final third of the season.

In 18 games with the Isles, Engvall had five goals and four assists. Of his five goals, four of them opened the scoring, as was the case in Game 5 when Engvall beat Antti Raanta in the first period to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead in a game they would go on to win 3-2.

We don't yet know yet if Lou Lamoriello will be calling the shots next season, but he has spoken openly about retaining players that you acquire through trading draft picks. He's already done that with JG Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, and Bo Horvat. The 26-year-old Engavall put enough of his upside on display to show that he could be an asset to the team's top nine with a rare combination of size and speed that the Islanders don't have elsewhere on the roster.

Toronto had extended Engvall on just a one-year, $2.25M contract last summer. He'll be looking for more money and term this off-season, but the numbers should remain modest enough to extend his Islanders' tenure if the team wants him back.

Semyon Varlamov

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders
Washington Capitals v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Varlamov transitioned to the role as backup to Ilya Sorokin and was a true professional all season as he started a career-low 22 games, posting an 11-9-2 record with a 2.70 GAA and .913 save percentage. "This year, it’s been different for me. It is what it is. I spend more time practicing on the ice with the goalie coach. You have to when you don’t play every game or every other game, you have to make sure you stay in good shape," said Varlamov in January.

There was speculation all summer that Varlamov would be traded as a clear asset that could both bring back draft picks in return but also clear his $5M AAV salary at a time when the Islanders needed cap flexibility to improve their forward group. It never appeared to be a serious consideration for GM Lou Lamoriello, who consistently spoke of goaltending being the team's strength.

Ahead of the March trade deadline, the veteran goaltender let it be known through the media that not only did he not want to be traded, but he wanted to stay on Long Island past this season. “Do I want to be traded? Absolutely not,” Varlamov said. “I want to stay with this team. I love this team. I want to stay here and re-sign.”

If Varlamov wants to return, he knows it comes with a pay cut, but what about the term? With Sorokin entering the final year of his contract at $4M AAV and due for an extension, it will be interesting to see if the 35-year-old Varly would be brought back for anything more than 1 year at $2-2.5M. Anything more than that in AAV or term, and you will be paying more for the goalie tandem two years from now that the combined $9M they made this season.

Hudson Fasching

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders
Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Fasching was arguably the best story of the Islanders season.

An afterthought when he was signed in August and then again when he was a call-up from Bridgeport when the team was down multiple forwards, the 27-year-old displayed a high motor and ability to drive the net that made himself a noticeable presence night in and night out. He finished the season with 10 goals and nine assists in 49 games, becoming a reliable and flexible piece of the Isles lineup for Lane Lambert throughout the season.

“Honestly, when I got called up, I told myself, ‘Screw it, we’re just going to pretend I’m confident right from the get-go,' ’'  said Fasching in early March about his mindset after his call-up. “That was the game plan, and we’re just going to run with it, see how it goes. So far so good."

Throughout the year, when the team's effort level came into question, there was Fasching, always going full throttle, recognizing the opportunity in front of him. During the playoff push, he did more than that, scoring big and timely goals, including the game-winner against the Buffalo Sabres and the go-ahead goal versus the Montreal Canadiens in the regular season finale.

“He works extremely hard. And he’s worked really hard to be here and stay in the lineup and compete every night and make a difference every night, and there’s a reason why he’s playing such great hockey and made a stamp on our team this season,” captain Anders Lee said back in March.

Fasching did plenty to show why he should return and continue to be in the fold for the Islanders. His best spot long-term may be on a line with Casey Cizikas, but with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck both under contract for next season, and younger players like Simon Holmstrom and Oliver Wahlstrom in the mix, a regular spot in the lineup will be something Fasching will have to fight for just as he did during the 2022-23 campaign.