Five UFA's the Islanders should pursue this summer

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This past season for the New York Islanders was not one to remember fondly. Plenty of shortcomings coming from the roster, coaching staff, a 13-game road trip to start the season, and a COVID-19 outbreak that messed up the team's flow early in the season all contributed to a disappointing season.

That makes this offseason a very important one for the trajectory of the team moving forward.

Barry Trotz is out, to many fans' surprise, and it's something that both management and fans will have to live with for this team to move forward. Lane Lambert was promoted from assistant to head coach, and while many will understandably miss Trotz behind the bench, there is plenty of optimism for Lambert.

Just like a coaching change, the roster will certainly be shaken up before next season. The Islanders luckily have become more of a destination for players when compared to years past with factors such as having a beautiful new arena, stable management, and developing a winning culture.

Last season the Islanders' biggest moves in free agency consisted of resigning pending free agents on the team, along with the signings of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. While veteran depth is nice and all, a bigger splash is something fans will be clamoring for.

So, let's take a look at some UFA options for the Islanders to try and pursue to make that splash on July 13th.

We'll go from the most reasonable option to the least reasonable option, and keep in mind the Islanders are expected to have around $12 million in cap space this summer.

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Andre Burakovsky: Colorado Avalanche

Burakovsky may not jump out at you as a "huge splash" right away, but he is much more than a depth piece at this point in his career.

I could see him sliding in nicely on the second line next to Brock Nelson, but wherever he'd be placed would be a solid fit.

In his contract year this season, he has set a career-high in goals, assists, and points. He's fast, dynamic, and stays out of the penalty box (18 minutes all season). His shooting percentage is also pretty solid from season to season, with an average of 17.6% in the past three seasons.

Sounds like the 27-year-old winger fits the bill for what Islanders fans are looking for, at a likely reasonable price as well.

He's currently making $4.9 against the cap, which will certainly go up, but I can't see it being a really steep price. I would expect somewhere within the $5.5-$6 million range, so hopefully, Lou could sweet talk that down if he's asking for a higher price.

It's going to be a challenge for Colorado to re-sign their pending UFA's this offseason due to so many having career years, such as Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin. Burakovsky could be a casualty if the Avalanche chooses to give a well-earned bag to Kadri.

He's still playing with the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, who are now four games away from winning the Stanley Cup, which would be his second.

And, of course, the connection between coach Lambert and Burakovsky is there. Lambert was Trotz's assistant in Washington when they all won the Stanley Cup together in 2018, so he also brings some winning experience, regardless if the Avalanche gets over the hump this year or not.

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Ondrej Palat: Tampa Bay Lightning

While the Lightning has been a thorn in the Islanders' side for the past few seasons, it wouldn't hurt to take an important part of their team away from them.

After all, this is a guy that is 100% capable of playing on a first-line, or anywhere in the lineup for that matter. He has often shared a line with one of Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point, and former MVP Nikita Kucherov.

Palat is a player that can do just about everything. He is gritty, tenacious, defensively sound, and skilled, which fits the Islanders' mold. He's also what many would call an "unsung hero" on a championship team(s) loaded with stars.

Some may consider Palat's campaign during the regular season a down year, even though he finished with 49 points. That total may be shadowing over his previous mark, 46 points in 55 games during the shortened 2020-21 season.

This is mainly due to him not being used on Tampa's power-play units this season, whereas last season he had 7 goals and 20 points on the man advantage. Certainly a need for the Islanders after a poor power-play performance early last season.

For these reasons, I think Palat would be a bargain to any team if he ends up hitting free agency. He makes $5.3 million a year right now, and I can't see him getting much more than that if at all. $5-$5.5 is what I would expect for a few years of term.

Tampa Bay lost key pieces from their championship runs in the past due to their cap restraints, and still made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals this year. They may see a piece like Palat as expendable or offer him an amount that is lower than what he deserves, which could lead to his departure.

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Filip Forsberg: Nashville Predators

Lou Lamoriello may not be fond of Forsberg's killer mustache, but hopefully, that doesn't sway him away from the Island.

I put Forsberg right in the middle when it comes to likeliness. It's up in the air if he will extend in Nashville or not, and he will have plenty of suitors this offseason if he opts to go to free agency.

This is a bonified first liner that the Islanders would benefit greatly from signing. How sweet it would be watching the star 27-year-old Swede skate side by side with Mat Barzal.

An extremely dynamic and skilled scorer, Forsberg would instantly change the look of the Islanders' offense. On both the power-play and even-strength, he is a game-changer and one of the best left-wingers in the league.

Forsberg shattered his career highs this season, with 42 goals and 42 assists in just 69 games, a 100-point pace for a full season. Currently making $6 million a year, he's bound for a massive payday, which could be around $8-9 million if he plays his cards right.

This may be a big price for the Islanders to pay, but Lou is not afraid to hand out the big check. He offered both Artemi Panarin and John Tavares around a $12 million per year AAV, but neither ended up signing with the Islanders. $8 million or so for an elite winger is most definitely worth it and Forsberg would become an instant fan favorite.

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John Klingberg: Dallas Stars

The only defenseman I included on this list, John Klingberg is someone that fits a need that Lou addressed previously- getting more offense from the defense.

That's exactly what Klingberg is and you know exactly the type of player you are getting with him. The problem is his inconsistency, and not so sound defense. He finished last season with a +/- of -28, and has been a minus the past three years. Not exactly ideal in your own zone.

His potential to break out further and score is there, though, which makes him an offensive threat on the blue line for teams to fear. He finished with 47 points this season, a number that is solid for many forwards and very appealing for a D-man.

He can fit in nicely on one of the power-play units, quarterbacking the unit that Noah Dobson is not. The Islanders have spots to fill on defense, assuming that Chara and Andy Greene both end up retiring or leaving the team.

The reason I think it's less likely they land him, however, is his asking price. It was reported that he was unhappy with the Stars organization and requested a trade, which was not fulfilled. It's likely that he enters free agency, but has also reportedly asked for above $8 million AAV. That for many screams "overpay."

A situation that was similar to this was with Tyson Barrie and both the Avalanche and Maple Leafs. He wanted above that same amount before he hit free agency, but his defensive struggles diminished his value. Barrie ended up signing for much less than that with Edmonton. I could see that being the case with Klingberg too.

If that is the case, that's a valuable signing for the Islanders if he isn't signed to a long-term deal. It's risky, but sometimes risks can be taken to try and earn contender status once again.

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Johnny Gaudreau: Calgary Flames

Oh Johnny Hockey, how beautiful it would be to see him add royal blue to his regular orange uniform.

Arguably an MVP snub this season, Gaudreau had a sensational campaign during his contract year. Forty goals,115 points, and a whopping +/- of +64 while playing on the best line in hockey this season.

The Boston College product made a gigantic jump from a disappointing 2021-22 season, where he only had 49 points in 56 games and was getting called out publicly by his coach Darryl Sutter at times. No better time to get rewarded for that massive improvement than when the offseason arrives.

There's no doubt that he will be one of the highest-paid players in the league next season. He's relatively young still while being so skilled, and evasive, and makes your team that much better. He will likely go from his modest $6.75 million AAV to possibly double digits or just under.

Unfortunately, it's quite unlikely that he ends up signing here in New York, let alone leaving Calgary, but a fan can certainly hope!

The Flames are expected to do everything in their power to retain him. That will also be a large price for any team, including the Islanders, to pay. Cap dumps are almost unavoidable when signing a player for that much as a contender.

There are many options that the Islanders can explore this offseason to improve the team, but hopefully, one or more of these five players mentioned will be pursued aggressively. It will be interesting to see what direction management decides to go in, considering that the Islanders are not far away from reclaiming their status as a contender in the Metro.

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