The ultimate list of unrestricted free agents the Islanders can steal from their Metropolitan Division rivals

The New York Islanders may not extend their season into the final weeks of April, and it’s clear they need help in free agency this offseason.

Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) skates with
Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) skates with / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Islanders are not in the best position to add talent to a lineup that needs it if they want to return to the playoffs in 2024-25, assuming they don’t win more games than those ahead of them in the standings at the moment and surpass them in points. That could always happen, but it still puts them in quite an interesting situation for next season. 

The Isles are one of a few teams that clearly have enough talent to contend as a wild card, but they don’t have enough for anyone to seriously consider them for a deep playoff run. But if general manager Lou Lamoriello added a star player to the lineup on an extended contract, it would change a lot. 

But here’s the problem - the Islanders have such little cap space at the moment that there is no possible way they would have enough to sign a potential star pending free agent in their own division - per the theme in this article - unless Lamoriello was interested in moving around a few players. 

Islanders could have enough room to sign one big-name free agent

But Lamoriello should also acknowledge that his team has a solid core, with Brock Nelson, Bo Horvat, Kyle Palmieri, Ilya Sorokin, Mathew Barzal, Noah Dobson, Ryan Pulock, and Adam Pelech. So why not move someone like the aging Casey Cizikis, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, or Anders Lee, and make a move to sign a star free agent who could help this team in scoring?

Doing so would give Lamoriello more money to spend in free agency, but it’s also worth mentioning Pageau (16-team) and Lee (15-team starting in 2024-25)have no-trade clauses, so in some circumstances, doing so would require them to waive that clause. 

However, teams figuring to contend that could use some physical players like Cizikis, Pageau, and Lee may be willing to make a deal if they have the space - especially if the Isles retained some of their salaries?

And that could very well open things up for the first two free agents the Isles can take from their Metropolitan Division rivals. Should hardly any player movement occur, never fear because there are also “consolation players” on this list, too. 

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Jake Guentzel, Forward/Carolina Hurricanes

Yep, we’re starting off with Jake Guentzel, who would be a prize free agent should general manager Lou Lamoriello find a way to bring him to town. With a lack of cap space, Lamoriello would have no choice but to get creative and move some players here, but since we know the Isles are still good enough of a team to contend, why not try to make the necessary transactions and roll with one of the biggest names in the 2024 class?

Since returning from injury this season, Guentzel has been on a tear with the Carolina Hurricanes with 16 points and two goals. He’s logging top-six minutes with 17:43 of average total ice time, and his defensive game is also looking strong in Raleigh, with over half a takeaway per game, nine hits, and seven blocked shots. 

His Corsi For sits at nearly 60 percent at 5-on-5 as of Wednesday. And through his first 11 contests, the Hurricanes have scored 11 times while he’s on the ice in that same situation while allowing zero goals in the process. 

Overall, Guentzel has constantly shown us this season that whether he’s on an underperforming team or an elite one, he’s a good fit. If Lamoriello could somehow lure him to Long Island, there is no reason to believe Guentzel wouldn’t be a good fit there, too. 

Teuvo Teravainen, Forward/Carolina Hurricanes

If a player like Guentzel is off the table, Lamoriello could always turn toward someone like Teuvo Teravainen. He would still need to free up cap space, but Teravainen would still be worth pursuing.

Once again, the 29-year-old is enjoying a successful season in Carolina, with 48 points and 21 goals in 71 games, good for between 52 and 53 points when stretched over 82 games. 

Teravainen isn’t the most physical forward on the ice who logs top-six minutes, unlike Guentzel. But here’s a basic statistic to consider: 40 takeaways so far in 2023-24, and there is a good chance he’s getting a stick on the puck even more often. Teravainen has been regularly stealing pucks since his first full season in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, and that aspect to his game is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Much like Guentzel, Teravainen’s 5-on-5 game has been epic, with a Corsi For of 59.0 and a career Corsi of 56.2 over his eight seasons in Raleigh. He would also help in the power play and while short-handed - with the latter being something the Islanders could use from any incoming free agent, not just a high-end player like Teravainen. 

No, Teravainen isn’t as much of an impact player as Guentzel, but he’s still an excellent consolation prize to the star winger. 

Tomas Nosek, Forward/New Jersey Devils

Okay, so not every name on this list will be a game-changer, but with potential changes that should come to the lower lines on Long Island, more role players could be needed. Someone like Tomas Nosek has been a proven fixture on the lower lines with organizations like the Detroit Red Wings, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Boston Bruins, and most recently, the New Jersey Devils, where he’s seen action in just 31 games this season. 

He’s never scored over 18 points in a single season, but Nosek is someone who can do more than just consistently block shots and finish checks, as his career faceoff win percentage sits at an incredible 54.5 percent. While the Isles have plenty of centers who can take faceoffs, Nosek would still improve the unit in the circle, as Brock Nelson has been well under the 50 percent faceoff win percentage this season. 

Nosek is yet another player who teams can trust when short-handed, as he’s logged over 210 over the past pair of seasons. While his on-ice save percentage in the situation this year is an average of 84.4 percent, that hasn’t always been the case every year - he’s logged a percentage of 87.9 or higher in four previous seasons. 

Nosek won’t score points in the same way as Guentzel or Teravainen, but it doesn’t mean he’s not an effective player, especially defensively. 

Alexander Wennberg, Forward/New York Rangers

Alexander Wennberg is another one who can take faceoffs, but the Isles wouldn’t see much of an improvement, as his career win percentage is just 46.2. Wennberg also isn’t much of a scorer, so he would only be a solid option if Lamoriello wanted to keep this team’s current identity as a defense-first group. 

He has recorded top-six minutes, which makes him a good insurance policy if the injury bug strikes. But with the rival New York Rangers, Wennberg has mainly played middle-six minutes with an average total ice time of 14:34. He will finish body checks, block shots, and take away pucks consistently, but Wennberg is also a fairly decent scorer, reaching double-digits in goals scored throughout each of the last four seasons. 

His scoring won’t be anywhere near mind-boggling, but it would provide value on the third line, and he’s also good at shot selection - Wennberg has amassed a 14.0 shooting percentage over the past four seasons. 

He’s someone many teams could use on the power play, with an on-ice shooting percentage of 13.4, though that number has been much higher in 2023-24 at 17.3. Wennberg is yet another name who would help one of the league’s worst short-handed units improve, as he will give at least triple-digits in minutes at 4-on-5. 

Erik Gustafsson, Defenseman/New York Rangers

Erik Gustafsson is one player on this list who would fit in rather easily with the Isles should they look for another defenseman. This isn’t to say they would get him for his current AAV of $825,000, but they also shouldn’t need to spend an incredible amount on the 32-year-old. 

Beyond the cost-effective price tag, Gustafsson’s productivity should also incentivize a team like the Isles to strongly consider him if he doesn’t re-sign with their rival. He has 30 points and six goals on the year, plus enough ice time to prove he can still handle top-four minutes if needed. 

He’s still consistent in the defensive zone to block and land checks, and his advanced statistics at 5-on-5 are still encouraging. The Rangers have scored four more goals than they have allowed while he’s on the ice at the time of this writing, and his Corsi For is still well over 50 percent. 

Okay, so this is all happening with a powerhouse team like the New York Rangers, so all of the above should look good. But consider his possession quality at even strength, which is a sound 7.2 with an xGF of 49.1 and an xGA of 41.9. Not bad, considering his actual numbers in both are still somewhere in the same realm. 

Jordan Martinook, Forward/Carolina Hurricanes

Yep, another member of the Carolina Hurricanes, and another good consolation should Lamoriello need to revamp his lower lines. Like Gustafsson, Martinook would be far easier to bring to Long Island than the likes of Guentzel and Teravainen, but keep in mind that he wouldn’t improve the team’s scoring situation like his current teammates. 

Martinook would slide right in and play a solid defensive game for Carolina, knock around opponents, and still have the capability to put up between 35 and 40 points in a good year. In 2022-23, he crossed the 30-point threshold for the first time and the same thing could be the case by the time this season ends. 

At 5-on-5, Martinook has also been helping to create plays for the Hurricanes judging from his 61.9 percent Corsi For, which will be a career-best. To make things even more interesting, only 46.0 of Martinook’s starts have come in the offensive zone, and while Carolina is one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, that is still an impeccable number. 

Like so many others listed, Martinook would be another player who could help ease the Islanders short-handed woes. Sans shortened seasons, Martinook has recorded triple-digit minutes at 4-on-5, and that trend continued this season. 

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Forward/Washington Capitals

And finally, we have Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who would help the lower lines for the Isles get a lot younger. No, Aube-Kubel isn’t scoring, so he’s like a few players on this list who would be a younger overall version of Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin if he tested the market and Lou Lamoriello signed him to add a younger face to the team. 

Throughout his time in Washington, Aube-Kubel has been a proven hitter, landing nearly 240 body checks through his 100-plus contests with the Capitals. He isn’t much more than a hitter, so he would only be worth signing if guys like Clutterbuck and Martin left and Lamoriello still wanted the Isles to enter 2024-25 with the same identity. 

We know how well the Caps have played defensively at times this season, and it’s one major reason they hung onto their playoff hopes until Alexander Ovechkin and company started producing more consistently. Aube-Kubel was a big part of that defensive mindset, with an on-ice save percentage of 93.1 and just 21 on-ice goals allowed at 5-on-5. 

The only real knock on Aube-Kubel coming to a team that could opt to keep up its defense-first ways is that he wouldn’t help when the Isles are short-handed. Other than that, he would be a cost-effective signing who will help the team get younger. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)

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