Now that Johnny Gaudreau is in Columbus and telling everyone how he long had it circled on his list of most desirable places to live, fans are waiting to see how GM Lou Lamoriello pivots in the free agency market after missing on his top target. But will he?
If the New York Islanders had signed Gaudreau, players were going to be moved - they had to be.
They could not sign their RFAs, including an expected bridge or long-term deal with Noah Dobson without doing so. We all know the names that have been speculated about since the end of the season: Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Semyon Varlamov.
The Islanders have to "do something" in free agency, right? Eh. Not exactly. At the end of Day 1 of free agency, only the Islanders and Nashville Predators (who re-signed Filip Forsberg before July 13th) had not made a signing.
It's possible that management viewed Gaudreau as a special case. Lamoriello would make his best offer and if he accepted, they were willing to pay a potentially steep price to shed salary and part with a piece they're otherwise reluctant to move. If he didn't, they would choose not to commit years and cap space to a next tier free-agent that would complicate their salary cap for this and future seasons.
WHAT ABOUT TRADES?
The Islanders could and should be active in the trade market. That was the expectation when the off-season started and now remains the most likely way the roster improves.
"“We’ll be as active as we can to make us better,” Lamoriello said. “Whatever we need to do, we’ll do to make us better. But remember, it takes two to make a transaction. We all have a wish list. I’ve said earlier what our thoughts were. We’d like to get better. If we can, we will. But we’re happy with our group.”"- Lou Lamoriello
Depending on your definition of a "hockey trade" the Islanders have already made one with the acquisition of 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens for the 13th overall pick (C, Frank Nazar) in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Alex DeBrincat and Kevin Fiala have already been moved in packages that the Islanders could have at least competed with if they were so inclined. Vladamir Tarasenko is being discussed for the second off-season in a row after rebounding from injury to score 32 goals for the St. Louis Blues last season. The Isles could circle back with the Vancouver Canucks on JT Miller to see if there's a package that doesn't include a first-round draft pick that works or wait and see if the situation in Chicago leads to Patrick Kane wanting a trade and being willing to play on Long Island for a season.
Lamoriello knows that as the strong Metropolitan Division gets stronger, his team needs to improve more than modestly. That means he can't be done trying to make the team better. But he might not feel pursuing any of the remaining group of free agents is how to do it.