NY Islanders: Five realistic UFA Targets on July 1st

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The NY Islanders made the playoffs in 2022-23 after missing out the previous season, but their limitations showed in a six-game defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes simply were faster, more skilled, and got the job done in overtime to take down the blue and orange in the first round. This offseason now becomes very important for the Isles who need to make moves to compete with a strong Eastern Conference that continues to get stronger.

Fans are used to GM Lou Lamoriello staying put and having confidence in the group they have right now, but there will be major changes this offseason in all likelihood. The eight-year contracts for Mat Barzal and Bo Horvat kick in on July 1st, making $8.5 million and $9.15 million per year respectively. Josh Bailey is on the books for one more season at $5 million, but all signs point to the longest-tenured Islander being moved after being healthy scratched for many regular season games and all playoff games. The Islanders currently have four pending UFAs in Scott Mayfield, Semyon Varlamov, Pierre Engvall, and Zach Parise, along with RFA Oliver Wahlstrom with only about $5 million in cap space to work with.

Lamoriello is scheduled to be a free agent himself with his contract expiring, but most expect him to return as general manager. Lane Lambert had a polarizing first season behind the bench in the wake of Barry Trotz's departure, mainly due to his dry personality in media availability along with the team having multiple rough stretches during the season. Those stretches can be blamed on injuries and players being forced into roles they are not meant to be in, but Lambert certainly raised some questions about his style of coaching even when players defend him.

Whether the Isles decide to let their free agents walk or decide to make trades, moves need to be made for this group to transform into a contender in a crowded Metropolitan division. There are plenty of skilled players that the Isles could lure in and have a significant role in this year's free-agent class. So, with just under one month until the beginning of the free agent frenzy, here are five players the Islanders should realistically try and make a push for.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Florida Panthers v Boston Bruins - Game One
Florida Panthers v Boston Bruins - Game One / Richard T Gagnon/GettyImages

Tyler Bertuzzi has the type of mold that is perfect for playoff hockey, which is exactly what the Islanders need on the wing. He's an aggressive winger who knows how to finish near the net and works well in any team's top six.

Bertuzzi, 28, is slated to become a UFA after being traded at the deadline by Detroit to the record-setting Boston Bruins. He often found himself on a line with 60-goal-scorer David Pastrnak and was a perfect compliment to one of the league's best players. Bertuzzi finished the regular season with 30 points in 50 games but scored four goals and five assists in their seven-game series against the Florida Panthers. It's hard to stand out as a deadline acquisition for the best regular season team in NHL history, but he found a way when Taylor Hall was put on IR for the rest of the season.

The Bruins will try their best to re-sign the 28-year-old before he hits the open market, but Boston has quite a lot to juggle with their cap situation after they received an overage penalty of $4.5 million due to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci's bonuses exceeding the limit. He could end up making around $5.5-$6.5 million per year on the cap if he makes it to July 1st, so the Bruins would need to make room fast to re-sign him.

The other thing standing in the way of a Bertuzzi signing is his vaccination status. A couple of years ago while the NHL was dealing with COVID-19 and Canada's restriction on unvaccinated people entering the country, Bertuzzi made it known that he was not vaccinated. Granted, COVID-19 is no longer causing a pandemic, but Lamoriello's policy was that all team members get the vaccine. If he no longer considers that a factor, then Bertuzzi should be a higher-priority target for the Isles.

Jonathan Drouin

Montreal Canadiens v Anaheim Ducks
Montreal Canadiens v Anaheim Ducks / Harry How/GettyImages

A Jonathan Drouin signing would be a low-risk, high-reward type of signing if he wants to get a fresh start on Long Island after six seasons in Montreal.

Drouin, 27, has not put up great numbers during his time as a Hab, but he also has not played a full season since 2018-19 when he put up 53 points. Last season, he only scored two goals to go along with 27 assists in 58 games. Notably, Drouin also spent time with the Players Assistance Program in 2021 due to mental health troubles and has been scratched by Martin St. Louis on numerous occasions due to his lack of defense.

So why should the Isles sign him you may ask? Well, this could be a place where Drouin can feel comfortable, supported, and given an opportunity to showcase what he can do, similar to when the Islanders signed Robin Lehner in 2018. Drouin is a fast, skill-based player and has shown flashes of creative offensive ability, which the Islanders desperately need. He had a few stretches near the end of the 2022-23 season where he looked like one of the better players on the Canadiens, but it was hard for him to stay consistent on one of the league's worst teams.

A fresh start is certainly needed for the former third-overall pick, and he would likely not cost much for any team on the open market on a low-term deal. He's not a player that the Islanders should put a large amount of focus on, but it's an idea to bring in a low-risk skilled player with the potential to bounce back.

Damon Severson

Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils - Game Three
Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils - Game Three / Elsa/GettyImages

We all know Lamoriello loves bringing over players that he drafted in the past, and his former second-round selection of Damon Severson could be one that he lures next door.

The future is now for the New Jersey Devils, and the writing is on the wall with Severson and his role with up-and-coming players such as Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec likely getting full-time roles soon, and Dougie Hamilton taking his spot as New Jersey's top power play quarterback. The Devils likely won't be able to afford him either, with Severson being projected to make around $6 million on the open market.

The power play was so abysmal for the blue and orange last season that fans at UBS wished the Isles rejected penalty calls and stay 5-on-5. Severson has shown that he can play on the power play and be effective, scoring 16 points on the man advantage in 2021-22. The former second-round pick scored 33 points last season without having a power-play role and playing about four fewer minutes per night than he was accustomed to.

Severson provides something that the Islanders need, that being a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman. If he wants to join a team that is already competitive and could guarantee him an important offensive role, the Island could be one of his best options.

Max Pacioretty

Minnesota Wild v Carolina Hurricanes
Minnesota Wild v Carolina Hurricanes / Jaylynn Nash/GettyImages

This picture defines Max Pacioretty's time spent with the Carolina Hurricanes, after only playing five games due to a second Achilles injury that he suffered in a game against the Minnesota Wild.

In those spare games that he gave Carolina, Patches got on the scoresheet three times. The former Canadien and Vegas Golden Knight is a well-known sniper, and even though his best days may be behind him goal-scoring-wise, he remains very efficient after hovering around a point per game for the last three seasons. Pacioretty would instantly be a top six level player for New York and would give the Islanders a true finisher that fans have been clamoring for.

The uncertainty is there for Patches, considering nobody has a clue when or if he will be cleared to play again soon. An Achilles tear is as tough of an injury to come back from twice now, let alone once, but that makes him a cheaper commodity in the Isles' favor. It's hard to see Pacioretty making much money at all on his next deal, and will likely end up signing a one-year contract. Whether that's with Carolina or not is a mystery given GM Don Waddell's recent comments on the matter.

Similar to a hypothetical Drouin signing, the Islanders could get the job done with a low AAV, low-term deal, but the obvious concern is his injury. It took him almost a full year to recover from his first injury of such sustained in 2021-22, so it could be another mid-season return for Pacioretty. Not an ideal situation for either party to be in, but Pacioretty would be a nice addition to any team by the time he is fully recovered and ready to play again.

Vladimir Tarasenko

New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils - Game Two
New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils - Game Two / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Yeah, yeah, yeah... Fans might not want to see this happen now with his recent stint with the Rangers, but Vladimir Tarasenko was always a player that was on the Islanders' radar, as he should still be.

It's unlikely that a player of his caliber switches from the bigger marker New York team to the other, but fans were sold on the idea of Johnny Gaudreau choosing the Islanders as his destination last offseason, so anything is possible. Tarasenko is also much more likely to sign with the Isles than his teammate Patrick Kane, and the Rangers would have to move mountains to keep both players.

Tarasenko is an extremely similar player to the aforementioned Pacioretty possessing one of the best wrist shots in the league, but luckily his injury problems seem to be less of an issue than they used to be. Tarasenko put up 50 points in 69 games this past season between the Rangers and St. Louis Blues, and scored 34 goals and 38 assists for 82 points in 2021-22. Tarasenko has been a force on the power play throughout his entire career but is also an efficient scorer 5-on-5.

This type of addition is a dream come true for Islanders fans. Barzal gets a bonafide finisher to play on his line with Horvat, the power play immediately improves, they can take away from the Rangers while doing so, and maybe the most underrated aspect about Tarasenko: his experience winning a Stanley Cup. This is the big fish that Lamoriello could reasonably go after this offseason, but like most signings the Isles could make, it would require some wheeling and dealing to make cap space. If he could provide everything mentioned above to this team that has aspirations to get back to the Eastern Conference Final, then any contract he signs would be a bargain.