How the NY Islanders Can Re-Open Their Winning Window

This era of New York Islanders hockey will be remembered fondly, but after last night, it appears to be the end of the line for this group of players. What are the next steps for the organization?
While he brought new credibility to the entire NY Islanders organization, Lou Lamoriello has also saddled the franchise with long-term contracts that will make change difficult.
While he brought new credibility to the entire NY Islanders organization, Lou Lamoriello has also saddled the franchise with long-term contracts that will make change difficult. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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Brock Nelson
Could the NY Islanders improve the farm system by trading Brock Nelson this offseason? / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

That brings us to the forwards. If any change is possible, it's likely to happen up front. Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat are in their primes and signed long-term, so they are both part of the core of the next Islanders teams. Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are UFA and seem likely to consider retirement. Casey Cizikas is under contract at a team-friendly number, so he is a lock to return. Pierre Engvall signed for seven years last summer, so he's basically guaranteed to return as well. Oliver Wahlstrom could be on the way out as an RFA, but he is unlikely to have a lot of value around the league, so he could either return to the Isles cheaply or perhaps even be non-tendered. Simon Holmstrom is RFA as well and is likely to return.

Many fans have talked about Anders Lee, whose no-trade clause becomes a modified no-trade clause this offseason. Lee has two years left on his contract and was the Isles' best forward down the stretch and against Carolina. It seems unlikely the Isles would trade their captain, but stranger things have happened, and since the no-trade is now modified, the Isles wouldn't necessarily need Lee's approval, so long as the acquiring team isn't on his list. But again, trading the captain who has done a lot for the organization seems unlikely, especially when you factor in the high cap hit and the age.

That leaves three forwards for which change seems possible: Brock Nelson, JG Pageau, and Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri just scored 30 goals for the Isles, so they could sell high and save $5M if they so choose. However, I don't anticipate too much of a market for Palmieri, even after the 30 goals, so if the price isn't great, the value of him returning outweighs any middling return. So unless the return is worth it, I would sooner bring Palmieri back.

Bo Horvat, Mathew Barzal
Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal are two key pieces of the next NY Islanders core. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

But Nelson and Pageau would be the prime trade candidates on this team. NHL teams always need centers, so they would be in demand. And Nelson in particular could bring back a significant haul; his 109 goals over the last three seasons rank 22nd in the NHL. He's under contract for one more year at a $6M cap hit, which fits most contenders. Nelson turns 33 in October, so he's unlikely to improve moving forward. Cashing in on him while he still has value is crucial for the Islanders to move into the next era.

If Nelson and Pageau are moved for mostly draft picks and younger prospects, that would clear $11M in salary cap space for 2024-2025. The Islanders could then use that money, plus the increased cap, to supplement the roster in UFA. The core of this team would seem to be Barzal, Horvat, Pelech, Pulock, Dobson, and Sorokin. The Islanders need to start focusing on this core and supplementing it properly. Nelson and Pageau are the easiest players to trade since they will have value to other teams. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the Dobson situation, as well.