Islanders Need to Plan Beyond Top Free Agent Targets

Arizona Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks
Arizona Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks / Rich Lam/GettyImages

The New York Islanders have had a very strong run with the current core group over the past few seasons. Three playoff appearances in four seasons, along with two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, one game, and two goals away from the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020-21 is the most success they've had since the 2015-16 season.

Losing Devon Toews and Nick Leddy in consecutive offseasons and filling those voids with Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene resulted in a team that was older, appeared slower, and was often outmatched. The 2021-22 season was full of obstacles, too much for them to overcome and return to their identity.

Reaching at least the second round of the playoffs for three straight seasons may have taken a toll on the group, but Isles GM Lou Lamoriello didn't help himself via roster construction, something he can't allow this summer.

Islanders Veteran Core

The Islanders' core has been together for quite some time. The identity line consisting of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck led the way for the majority of that time frame. Cizikas has even been coined as the "motor that revs the Isles engine."

Players like Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson have been an important part of the success the Islanders sustained in recent history. Adding veterans like Kyle Palmeiri, J.G. Pageau and Zach Parise have brought on the urgency to win now, especially with Palmieri and Pageau signed on long-term.

The prospect pipeline isn't exactly gleaming and most of the younger players with potential have reached the Islanders roster. Ilya Sorokin, Mathew Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier have proven to be consistent NHL players and at times, these players perform at levels comparable to the best in the game.

Lamoriello has added solid support to the group that was largely constructed by former GM Garth Snow. After a disappointing 2021-22, Lamoriello needs to reward his roster with a difference-maker,
a necessary addition to rebound from a down year and get back to the playoffs to compete against some high-powered offensive teams.

No general manager feels that he or she cannot improve their current roster. After a season of no playoff hockey, Lamoriello must find ways to improve his team and he will have options.

The recent acquisition of defenseman, Alexander Romanov shores up the back end. They have goaltending, defense, center depth, and supporting cast. What this team needs is an elite scorer to get them to the next level.

The free agent market has some skilled players who will surely be in high demand. So who can Lamoriello win over and lure to Long Island?

Secondary Plans

Lamoriello is rumored to be in the mix for the top players available (as he should be) such as Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri, and if they go the trade route, Vladimir Tarasenko. With the limited cap space and uncertainty of how the market will play out, the possibility of missing plans A, B and C are certainly not out of the question.

The team is not looking to add depth pieces to finalize an already playoff-worthy roster. This team needs an elite sniper to consistently find the back of the net. If the cost for that type of player is too large or said players are off the market, where or who does Lamoriello turn to?

One intriguing option that will definitely be available is David Peron. Perron is a multi-20-plus goal scorer who could work on a short-term deal to fit alongside Barzal. He has the knack to finish at the right moment. The soon-to-be 34-year-old forward will hit the market at noon on Wednesday.

Andre Burakovsky is another intriguing option who comes younger than Perron. Burakovsky scored 22 goals and amassed 61 points last season with the Colorado Avalanche. He's got the speed and the skill to hack it on the Isles first line, again with Barzal.

Pricing himself out of the Toronto Maple Leaf's budget, you can see a situation where Lamoriello will reach out to Ilya Mikheyev. Jim Paliafito is on board as the Isles European scout, and Paliafito lured Mikheyev from the KHL to NHL in the first place. He's going into his age-28 season and has the speed and skill to work in the Isles top-6.

Connor Garland hasn't quite found a permanent home after three seasons with the Arizona Coyotes and one with the Vancouver Canucks. He'll test free agency on Wednesday. Garland has only hit the 20-goal mark once but came close last season with 19 goals in 77 games. He could be an under-the-radar option if the Isles turn to him in free agency. He has the potential to be a great player with the all-around skill and scoring prowess the Isles need despite not carrying the title of a "sniper."

Whatever the route, Lamoriello cannot afford to sit quietly if he misses out on his main targets.
As we approach noon on Wednesday, Lamoriello will need to think well beyond plan A in order not to come up short like he did last offseason.