The first day of the NHL Free Agency is always filled with anticipation no matter if you're a player, general manager, coach, or fan. The New York Islanders came into the first day of free agency ready to spend and had their sights set on one player, Johnny Gaudreau.
On Tuesday night, Gaudreau let the Calgary Flames and GM Brad Treliving know that he was not returning to the club that he had called home for the last eight-plus seasons and was going to test the market. Speculation swirled as the hottest free agent since Artemi Panarin was set to hit the market in 2019.
The Philadelphia Flyers were the leading suspected candidate to land Gaudreau as one of the teams closer to home on the East Coast. They went as far as buying out forward Oscar Lindblom to relieve $3.33 million off their cap. The Flyers were also reportedly trying to ship James van Riemsdyk in an effort to clear his $7 million cap hit as well.
When the Flyers were ultimately unable to move Van Reimsdyk's contract, they were out of the sweepstakes and it sounded as though it came down to the Islanders and the New Jersey Devils. It was speculated that the Islanders offered a seven-year contract that carried a $9 million AAV and the Devils offered the same term with a $10.2 million AAV.
The buzzer sounded at 12 pm on Wednesday for the start of free agency and UFA names were flying off the board. The biggest names that had not agreed to contracts were Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri, and John Klingberg.
In a surprise twist about four hours after the free agency window opened, it was reported that the Columbus Blue Jackets were lurking on the Gaudreau situation. Well, not two hours later, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen shocked everyone when he swayed Gaudreau to sign a seven-year deal to become the newest resident of Ohio.
The Islanders and Lamoriello were left hungry with an empty plate, shades of 2019 all over again, in a shocking plot twist that no one saw coming. The best free agent names left on the board that the Islanders could target look to be Kadri and Ondrej Palat.
Lamoriello was pretty open about wanting to make an upgrade by targeting a forward. Now, his best bet sounds like the trade route. Interestingly enough, Patrik Laine is a restricted free agent that needs a contract and it's unlikely Columbus can afford both him and Gaudreau. Lamoriello will have options on the trade market and will have to get creative in order to upgrade his roster.