NY Islanders decision to give Noah Dobson a bridge deal is going to make them pay

Nov 30, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson (8) goes past
Nov 30, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson (8) goes past / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the 2022-23 season, New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson was a restricted free agent (RFA) and due for a new contract. The timing of it with his breakout 2021-22 season gave the Isles brass a decision to make, and it's looking increasingly like the Islanders made the wrong one.

Dobson was a bright spot during a disappointing 2021-22, scoring 13 goals and adding 38 assists in 80 games. The question was whether GM Lou Lamoriello felt he had seen enough from the 2018 first-round pick to lock Dobson up to a long-term contract or sign a bridge deal to reevaluate where the player and team were in 3-4 years.

In late August, the team announced they had signed the then-22-year-old to a three-year contract extension with an AAV of $4M per year. By offering a long-term contract, the Islanders could have had Dobson under contract for more money now, but in exchange for a lower AAV if and when his play started to exceed the value of the contract.

“He has to continue to grow the way he did this year,” Lamoriello said when questioned about a possible long-term extension in 2022. “We have to see a little more from Noah to make that long-term decision.”

They are seeing a lot more.

Dobson had shown an ability to get shots on net and became the team's best transition defenseman after Lamoriello traded away both Devon Toews and Nick Leddy in preceding seasons. What they needed to see more of was for Dobson to become more reliable and stronger in his own zone, a development that often comes later for young defensemen. They are seeing that now.

Last year, Dobson's offensive numbers were on par with what he produced the prior season, but he failed to take meaningful steps defensively and, more alarmingly, was the quarterback of one of the worst power plays in the league. This year, he has excelled on the power play and is tied with Mathew Barzal for the team lead in points with 32 (5G, 27A) after assisting on all three third-period goals Saturday night in Montreal.

With the Islanders down at least one regular defenseman almost all season, Dobson has logged heavy minutes, playing both on the power play and occasionally the penalty kill. He has now skated at least 25 minutes in 12 consecutive games, the longest such streak since Adrian Aucoin in 2014 and there's no sign of it ending anytime soon.

Dobson will be arbitration-eligible and still a restricted free agent when his three-year contract extension is up after next season. That gives the Islanders some leverage, but Dobson will have some leverage of his own as he can be signed to an offer sheet. He also likely going to be the benefactor of a rising NHL salary cap. He's currently fourth amongst NHL defensemen in points, behind only Evan Bouchard (EDM), Cale Makar (COL), and Quinn Hughes (VAN), and third in the league in TOI.

For comparisons, Bouchard is in a similar position as Dobson, holding a 3.9M AAV through next season, while the Canucks locked up Hughes long-term at an AAV of 7.85M, which bought out one season of unrestricted free agency. Makar, regarded as the league's best defenseman, inked a 6-year, $54M before the 2021-22 season.

Around the same time, Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Adam Fox signed a seven-year deal with a 9.5M AAV with the New York Rangers. Seth Jones, Charlie McAvoy, and Zach Werenski all earn slightly more annually than Fox or Makar, and Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson are the highest-paid defensemen with a $11M AAV cap hit.

Dobson hasn't accomplished nearly as much as most of the aforementioned players, but his trajectory is headed in that direction. He has a solid chance of being named to his first All-Star game this season and will likely receive some Norris Trophy votes if he can keep up this pace.

Lamoriello has done well not to set the market when resigning his own players. That doesn't mean he is extending them for cheap; it just means he has found ways to keep the AAV reasonable compared to the going rates in free agency. There has rarely been a scenario where an Islanders contract was announced where you felt the player wasn't going to be able to at least match that elsewhere.

Based on the comparisons around the league, Dobson will undoubtedly become the Isles' highest-paid defenseman and could potentially surpass the AAVs of Bo Horvat and Barzal depending on where he ends up this season and whether he wants to work out a long-term extension after this season or wait until his three-year contract runs out after next year.