Islanders Need a New Plan A to Upgrade Roster

2022 NHL Draft - Round 2-7
2022 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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By now you know that the New York Islanders lost out on the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes. In a plot twist that no one saw coming, the 29-year-old forward landed on an offer from the Columbus Blue Jackets despite most having him pegged going to the Islanders, New Jersey Devils, or Philadelphia Flyers. Now, the Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello is left with the desire to add but not many options left in order to upgrade the forward group via free agency. Lamoriello needs a new plan, and it can't be a plan B, C, etc. The Islanders need a plan A, a real difference maker, and although it'll be hard to find someone like the 115-point player Gaudreau is, Lamoriello can't settle for mediocre.

Free agency has proven to be a bust thus far, however, there is still an enticing option or two that remains on the UFA market. However, given Lamoriello's history, it'll likely serve him best to navigate the trade route with the hopes that he can pry a player with first-line capabilities. It may or may not cost a lot, but as we learned on Wednesday night, Lamoriello is in the last year of his contract, and with a brand new arena to boot, he'll want to impress ownership in order to stick around and put butts in seats. So what options are left in order to ice a team that will entice Islanders ownership and fans?

Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two
Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

Nazem Kadri

Kadri is the lone difference maker that is still available via free agency. Elliotte Friedman alluded to the fact that both "New York teams (could be) possibly looking at Kadri." Well, the New York Rangers signed Vincent Troceck to a seven-year contract that carries a $5.625 million AAV. That solidifies Broadway's second-line center need and it's unlikely they'd be pursuing Kadri at this point.

The Islanders are deep at center, in fact, they have four solid NHL centers. However, as many have speculated, Brock Nelson or Mathew Barzal could shift to the wing to make room for a high-profile name like Kadri. Kadri scored 28 goals last season and amassed 87 points. He's the kind of player that if/when you insert on a line with, say, Barzal, he not only knows how to finish, but he doesn't shy away from banging bodies which could open up the ice a lot more for the shifty 25-year-old forward.

The asking price began high, but seeing how he didn't fly off the market as some other names did, it's possible his desired $8 million AAV comes down to a more reasonable price. As the lone free agent difference-maker still available, it's worth Lamoriello's time and attention to try and lock Kadri down as a player who doesn't require anything but dollars in return.

San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes
San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Timo Meier

Now we have to start thinking outside of the box like Lamoriello did when he acquired Alexander Romanov. The San Jose Sharks may have already started tearing it down with new GM Mike Grier at the helm. On Wednesday, Grier sent defenseman Brent Burns and Lane Pederson to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Steven Lorentz, goalie prospect Eetu Makiniemi and a conditional 2023 3rd-round pick. The Sharks are retaining 33 percent of Burns' contract over the next three seasons.

It's a curious move trading your top pairing defenseman, especially because the Sharks just extended Tomas Hertl long-term back in March. The remaining impact players on the Sharks appear to be Hertl, Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, and Timo Meier. One of those players is not like the others. Meier stands out as the most valuable guy of the trio while also being the youngest. The 25-year-old winger is coming off an excellent 35-goal, 41 assist season. He has one year remaining on his contract that carries a $6 million AAV before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. The multi-30-goal scorer can play both wings and would certainly slot in well with a playmaker like Barzal.

Again, it's going to cost a lot to acquire a guy like Meier. However, the Islanders and Lamoriello aren't in a position to settle for mediocracy this season. Much like Romanov, Meier is an off-the-board candidate for Lamoriello to acquire that fits in with what the core should be moving forward extending the Islanders' win-now window. If Grier is willing to dance, Lamoriello should salsa.

Winnipeg Jets v Toronto Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

Nikolaj Ehlers

Who really knows what's going on with the Winnipeg Jets? They didn't make any splashes on day one of free agency, Pierre-Luc Dubois has already informed management he's testing the UFA market in two off-seasons, and captain Blake Wheeler is on the trade market and may find himself in a new sweater next season. Lamoriello should be praying on a decomposing roster with the hopes that he can pluck Nikolaj Ehlers.

Kyle Connor is likely going to be too rich to acquire after the 25-year-old sniper had a 47-goal, 93-point season in 2021-22. Ehlers on the other hand could be a little less costly, although it'll still feel expensive for the Islanders. Regardless, Ehlers is a speedy winger who has the knack for both dishing and finishing. The Danish winger is a six-time 20-plus goal scorer, scoring 25 or more goals in four of those six seasons. Yet another player who would slot well with Barzal, Ehlers has the speed to match Barzal's making for an enticing duo.

Ehlers is cost controlled with a $6 million AAV over the next three seasons. One obstacle Lamoriello could face is that Ehlers owns a 10-team no-trade list, however, the chance to play with Barzal could keep the Islanders off that list. It's an awkward time for the Jets and if there is any sign that the Jets could ultimately tear it down, Lamoriello should be first in line to the fire sale.

There's no doubt that no matter the acquisition it will be costly. Kadri will command a decently high AAV, or trade acquisitions will cost Lamoriello coveted picks, prospects, and maybe even a roster player. However, Lamoriello and the Islanders don't have the luxury to sit around, wait, and ultimately settle for less. The Islanders need an impact forward, and they need one now. The cost doesn't matter at this point if the goal is to return to the playoffs and ultimately, Stanley Cup contention.