The moves the NY Islanders don't make this summer will tell the bigger story

2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The early days of free agency are mostly about signing players to address needs and fill holes, but for the New York Islanders, the moves they don't make will tell the bigger story.

Unfairly or not, the narrative surrounding the organization is that they continually "run it back" despite deficiencies and limitations with their roster. That has led to two consecutive seasons where the late-season pushes were necessary to clinch a playoff berth in the final days of the regular season.

The Islanders are viewed in a perpetual cycle of a team that's good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to contend for a Stanley Cup. As Islanders fans well know, there are worse positions to be in. Still, for a fanbase that sees the contention window closed or closing, the lack of more substantial changes has become a point of frustration and a talking point for fans that have grown disenchanted by a perceived lack of urgency and over-belief in the roster's core players.

The Islanders' salary cap situation has always made it unlikely that they would be in the market for a significant free agent, and a few of those names are already off the board. However, other decisions can provide a view into what the organization is thinking and where things are headed.

As it relates to their key unrestricted free-agents, there is a strong case to bring back Mike Reilly has the sixth defenseman as long as the term remains 1-2 years. However, for veterans Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, there is more uncertainty as to whether the organization wants them back.

“There's nothing that's been done. I've had my conversations with them, and they've had conversations with me," said GM Lou Lamoriello at this weekend's draft. That vague answer indicates that, unlike prior seasons, the Islanders aren't starting the summer with deals for the players they want to retain. Martin and Clutterbuck stated they intend to play next season, but there is no guarantee that will happen on Long Island. If the two fourth-liners are backup plans rather than priority signings, that's a strong indicator that the Isles are looking to revamp their bottom six.

Further, Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri are entering their respective contracts' final years. Lamoriello has aggressively aimed at re-signing and extending his own players, often on team-friendly deals that are mutually beneficial for both parties. If there is no such desire to extend Nelson, the team's leading scorer, or Palmieri, who scored 30 goals last season, it shows that the Islanders indeed want roster flexibility, both at this year's trade deadline and next off-season.

So, if things tend to be quiet for the Islanders in the early days of free agency, as they tend to do, think about what the lack of others moves may say to how they view the team moving forward. It may indeed be that fans are starting to see the beginning of the roster reshaping they've longed for, even if it doesn't come through swift, bold moves at first.