We don't know much about what New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello has planned for the rest of this summer regarding possible roster transactions. However, we know that Noah Dobson is a restricted free agent and is due for a new contract. Fortunately for the Islanders, Dobson doesn't have arbitration rights, one less hurdle Lamoriello needs to leap in terms of locking down the budding superstar defenseman.
Shayna Goldman of The Athletic, Sportsnet and the Too Many Men Podcast joined the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast on Wednesday to talk about the Islanders and their future. Goldman shed some light on player comparisons that Dobson and his agent could bring to the table when negotiating his next contract:
"I like looking at similarity scores based on players within (Dobson's) age range that had similar seasons on both ends of the ice. His top comps after this past season were Seth Jones, Cam Fowler, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Shea Theodore, and (Ryan) Pulock ahead of him. Those are all really encouraging that I think should tell the Islanders this is someone who could be a top pairing defenseman which is why I think going with a bridge deal, which they might do to ease their (salary) cap situation, is a mistake because I think he'll earn that much more on his next contract."- Shayna Goldman
Like Goldman states, those are some really encouraging player comparisons. The largest cap hit of the players compared to Dobson is Seth Jones' $9.5 million AAV. The lowest cap hit is Oscar Klefbom's $4.167 million AAV. Where Dobson's next AAV lands depends on the term, and as Goldman stated, a bridge deal feels like a mistake on Lamoriello's part as Dobson is likely to continue to blossom and command more money later.
If it is a bridge deal, a three-year contract brings Dobson to the end of his age-25 season where he would remain a restricted free agent. Considering Lamoriello's way of business, it would be hard to imagine Dobson's AAV would eclipse Pulock's or Adam Pelech's ($5.75 million AAV) in the short term. Lamoriello is likely to start somewhere closer to Klefbom's $4.167 million AAV, however, Dobson outperformed Klefbom's most recent 34-point season in 2019-20. Looking to Shea Theodore, he accrued 14 goals and 38 assists for 52 points this past season. That's almost identical to Dobson's 13 goals and 38 assists for 51 points. It's reasonable to believe that Dobson could sign in the short term closer to Theodore's $5.2 million cap hit which would not eclipse Pelech or Pulock's current AAVs. A three-year, $15 million contract seems fair in the short term.
As Goldman stated though, Lamoriello should be looking to lock up Dobson long-term. That means you might be overpaying Dobson in the early years of his contract with the anticipation he'll eventually grow, and then surpass the value that he signed up for. If an eight-year contract is on the table, Dobson's camp could reasonably start at Jones' $9.5 million AAV. Jones, accrued five goals and 46 assists for 51 points, matching Dobson's total output. It's unlikely Lamoriello agrees to a figure that large, especially with the need to sign Mathew Barzal, and Ilya Sorokin becomes eligible for an extension next summer.
A couple of factors will come into play here. A hometown discount is a reasonable ask, and Dobson has just one season under his belt with the kind of success he sustained in the 2021-22 season, whereas Jones has multiple seasons posting 40 or more points, eclipsing the 50-point plateau twice. Cam Fowler's contract stands out as one both sides should be comfortable starting with. After an eight-goal, 32-point 2017-18 season, Fowler signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with an AAV of $6.5 million.
Dobson outperformed Fowler's 2017-18 season and could reasonably negotiate higher. An eight-year, $56 million contract (a $7 million AAV) sounds like a reasonable middle ground for the two sides to agree on for the long term. The Islanders are taking a small gamble running the risk that Dobson won't replicate his 2021-22 season, however, his trajectory suggests he'll continue to trend upwards. Lamoriello would be buying the prime of Dobson's career at a $7 million cap hit per year in a situation where Dobson would likely outperform his contract.
Whatever path Lamoriello takes, there's a solution for both the short and long term when trying to figure out Dobson's next contract. In order to also fit Kieffer Bellows and Alexander Romanov's next contract with just under $12 million in cap space, Lamoriello and Dobson may have to opt for a bridge deal, especially if the Islanders are still looking to add an impact forward. We've seen Lamoriello perform salary cap gymnastics before, however, so it's not unreasonable to think he can lock up Dobson long-term given how well he did in the Pulock and Pelech negotiations, something that would absolutely benefit the Islanders and their future.