The most wonderful time of the year has arrived for hockey fans…. NHL free agency! It's that time of year when every fan can dream of that top player signing with their hometown squad turning their favorite team from pretender to contender and where you feel the need to be glued to the rumors and formulate your opinions on your team’s plan of attack.
The Islanders and their fans are no different and we are just a day away from the gates opening for free agents to sign with their desired teams. The Islanders are in a precarious position as their roster is mostly full, but we know Isles GM Lou Lamoriello wants to make upgrades.
Last season was one to forget for the Islanders after completing two of the more successful seasons in recent history. Still, said success did not bring that fifth Stanley Cup to Long Island and last season was a step back putting the hopes of a title one step further.
The Islanders as currently constructed can certainly make the playoffs with the addition of Alexander Romanov, but can they compete with the likes of the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, or even their neighbors and rivals, the New York Rangers?
Speed and offense seem to be sprinkled all over the contending teams. The Islanders have struggled to put pucks in the net but do some other things very well. What player can help put it all together for the Isles and bring them back to Stanley Cup contention?
The Islanders don't have to wait for tomorrow's free agency window to open for this one, but the Chicago Blackhawks made it well known at the draft that they are in a rebuild. The team is unloading assets for draft picks and is keen to take on larger contracts for future assets. The members of the Stanley Cup-winning teams are dwindling and the Hawks will need to find homes for those remaining. Patrick Kane was a huge part of Chicago's success but is entering his mid 30’s.
Despite growing older, Kane's production has still been strong and he's still an offensive wizard with the puck. With the ability to make plays and stick handle in a phone booth, Kane could be the creativity the Islanders are missing. Additionally, Kane can put the puck in the net as a multi-30-plus goal scorer, especially in comparison to the current Islanders' top forwards. Kane and Mathew Barzal would be a perfect duo on the Isles top line wreaking havoc on opponents.
Chicago should be willing to take on some of Kane’s salary and that will be extremely helpful given the Islanders' cap space. Moreover, Chicago is an organization that can take on a larger contract if the Isles ultimately decide to offload someone in a potential deal.
The top option on the free-agent market will be Calgary Flames forward, or maybe former Flames forward, Johnny Gaudreau. It is appearing more likely that he will hit the market on Wednesday.
Gaudreau is coming off a monster season in Calgary where he scored 40 goals and 115 points.
Size is not a strength for “Johnny Hockey”, but he is very much like Kane in the sense that he can create a ton of offensive chances with great speed. The puck possession and vision will immediately help the top line and strengthen the power play units immensely.
Like anything good, Gaudreau is going to cost a ton. Lamoriello will have to make some adjustments to the current roster to create cap space for an acquisition of that magnitude. Also, some help from Gaudreau deferring money would certainly help with Josh Bailey and Semyon Varlamov coming off the books in a couple of years, but don't hang your hats on that.
Kadri is another top talent on the free-agent market and coming off a Stanley Cup victory with the Colorado Avalanche. Kadri comes with some baggage as he has had some issues on and off the ice. Nevertheless, Kadri is a big talent that would certainly strengthen any team.
Kadri will come expensive as well. He plays a position where the Islanders have plenty of depth so it will certainly be interesting to see how it would all come to fruition if it does. It is always an option to move Barzal or Brock Nelson to the wing as some have suggested if Kadri were to sign with the Islanders.
It would be beneficial for the Islanders to focus on a wing and not change too much of the established core. Don’t get me wrong, Kadri would be a welcomed addition but the money could be used on a better fit for the locker room and the on-ice chemistry.