The silence was finally broken on Monday morning when the NY Islanders announced the signings of Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and Kieffer Bellows. The new contracts given to Dobson and Romanov lock up the top-four along the Isles blue line for at least the next three seasons. The two could likely pair together to complement the successful duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
Romanov, acquired at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft from the Montreal Canadiens, agreed to a three-year deal with a $2.5M AAV. Similarly, Dobson, the Isles breakout star last season, also agreed to a three-year deal with a slightly higher $4M AAV. At the expiration of their contracts, both will still be restricted free agents.
As much of the roster is currently comprised of contracts that do not meet their projected output, the defensive unit is one area where the franchise is working with a bargain. Currently, it seems as if Scott Mayfield and Robin Salo are projected to be the final defensive pairing. That means the Isles' likely opening night defensive unit has a cap hit of $20.65M. As of Tuesday morning, the Isles also signed former 2016 first-round draft pick, Dennis Cholowski to a two-year, two-way contract and has an outside chance of competing with Salo and Sebastian Aho for the sixth or seventh spot on defense.
For comparison, the Islanders' cross-town rival NY Rangers, who were extremely successful on the defensive end last season, have an opening night defensive cap-hit of $23.275M and an average age of 23.17 (if Zac Jones is named to the opening night roster). However, this is currently with three defensemen still on their entry-level contract. K'Andre Miller is on his last year of his ELC and will likely look for a big pay raise alongside Adam Fox ($9.5M AAV) and Jacob Trouba ($8M AAV).
Aside from the money aspect, the defensive corps also have youth on their side. Mayfield is the elder statesman of the group at 29 years old. As a unit, they have a combined average age of 24.75, a large contrast to the forward group, which has an average age a shade under 30.
As many predict will happen, there is the opportunity for first-time head coach Lane Lambert to make Dobson and Romanov a pair. Both, only 22 years old, have the potential to develop together as they enter the prime years of their careers.
In the second half of last season, Dobson began to show that he could be a force on the offensive end putting up 37 points in the team's final 48 games. He finished the season with 51 points, the most for an Islanders defenseman since Mark Streit. There was a possibility that GM Lou Lamoriello could lock Dobson up to a long-term extension but instead opted for the three-year bridge deal. Lamoriello would like to see what Dobson did over the second half of last season become the norm.
"Well, there's always an opportunity to do that. But where we feel Noah is at right now, to make that decision, you know from his group's point of view, we have to see more with Noah."- Lou Lamoriello
Romanov plays a much different style than Dobson, which gives the potential for the two to become an effective pairing as they could complement each other well. He struggled the first half of last season, like many Canadiens, but would show improvement once Martin St. Louis took over as head coach at the Bell Centre. He was given more responsibility and freedom on the ice, which proved to impact his development positively.
Romanov is a smooth skating, defense-first kind of defenseman. In his media availability after his new contract was announced, he made it known that improving his offense has been a point of emphasis during the off-season:
"I would like to bring more offense right now because all off-season, I worked with the puck and with skills because I want to improve my game with the puck honestly. I also can hit guys and start attacks, like breakouts. I want to play more in the offensive zone."- Alexander Romanov
Romanov went on to make it known that he is currently on Long Island and is spending a lot of his time with his former CSKA Moscow and current Islander teammate, Ilya Sorokin, who he won a Gagarin Cup with in 2019.
It seems as if Lamoriello has decided to go the youth route this season along the blue line. As it looks, the entire unit will be under 30 years old. In his media availability on Monday, Lamoriello said that he hasn't had discussions to bring back either Zdeno Chara or Andy Greene next season.
The organization has shown a reluctance to put young players in big spots in the past. This season there will be nowhere to hide as this young core will be thrown into the fire each night. Lamoriello has taken grief due to his ability to rope in a big-name free agent, however, he does deserve kudos for locking up the Islanders' defense at a bargain rate.