The New York Islanders are in the middle of a pivotal offseason where they look to make a handful of moves to bounce back after a disappointing 2021-22 season. With salary cap space to work with, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello looks to add a talented skater to the forward unit or the defensive unit to help out first-year head coach Lane Lambert.
One of the teams, the Islanders, can look to acquire players from is the Calgary Flames, a team that had the best record in the Pacific Division this season after going 50-21-11. The Flames, however, are going to have issues retaining many of their players who are both restricted and unrestricted free agents this offseason, and will likely take on big contracts.
The skater that the Islanders and a handful of teams around the league will pursue this offseason is Johnny Gaudreau. After scoring 40 goals and 75 assists while gashing opposing defenses on the rush with speed, the star forward is poised for a big contract as a pending free agent. While the Flames can offer Gaudreau an eight-year contract, and would like to re-sign him at all costs, the team also has to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk, who is a restricted free agent and will likely require a high-end contract. As a result, the 28-year-old forward will look to test the market.
The Islanders adding Gaudreau to their forward unit would instantly elevate the offense. His speed and playmaking ability would complement younger skaters on the team, like Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom, while his skillset overall would lift any forward shift on the team. The Islanders have been deprived of a star scorer for years, and already have a defensive and goaltending unit to compete for a Stanley Cup, making a playmaker arguably the final piece missing in their roster.
Gaudreau would take up a lot of the Islanders’ salary cap, likely taking a seven-year deal at $10 million per season — possibly more. However, the move would pay off immensely, allowing the team to compete next season and for years to come, with an elite skater helping turn around an offense that only scored 2.79 goals per game.
The Flames had a remarkable defense this season, allowing only 2.51 goals per game, and one of the best defensemen for the team was Oliver Kylington, who had a breakout year. The 24-year-old defenseman contributed 5.0 defensive point shares and 79 blocked shots while reliably contributing to the left side of the defense throughout the regular season and the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs — this before they were eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in the Second Round. Ideally, the Flames will re-sign Kylington who is a restricted free agent, but considering the difficulties of balancing the salary cap, the team might be forced to let him test free agency.
The Islanders are searching for a defenseman that can be paired alongside Noah Dobson but also help secure the left side of the defense. Kylington would not only provide great defensive play, but after scoring nine goals and 22 assists this season for the Flames, would help open up the offense from the blue line. The Islanders have been carried by their defense in recent seasons, but the past season particularly, exploited the weakness of the unit, as they looked slower and less effective in the offensive zone. While the Islanders have to hope the 24-year-old defenseman is available, a move to acquire him would pay off immediately, turning an already good defense into one of the best in the league.
Another pivotal player on the Flames’ defense, Nikita Zadorov, was acquired by the team in the 2021 offseason on a one-year deal, and stepped up. He wasn’t a top-pairing defenseman, averaging only 16:55 ice time per game, but he helped secure the third pairing to allow the unit to become one of the best in the NHL. At 27 years old, the journeyman defenseman, who has already played on four teams in his nine seasons, will likely look for a team that can provide stability and security, considering the Islanders’ defensive situation, they could be the perfect fit.
The Islanders ideally are looking for a high-level two-way defenseman, one that can not only help out defensively but also improve the offense. While Zadorov isn’t going to help out the offense per se, contributing only 20 points or more twice in his nine-year career, he will help secure the defense and provide depth to the unit. As a reliable defenseman that has played on both the left and right sides throughout his career, he can play alongside Scott Mayfield, giving the team a strong pairing defensively, and improving the unit altogether.
The Flames acquired Calle Jarnkrok at the trade deadline, hoping to add to the forward unit in a hopeful Cup run. He isn’t a top-line forward, but can contribute goals to the second or third line of an offense, making him an intriguing player for many teams to acquire this offseason. The Islanders are looking for an elite playmaker, but adding depth to an already deep forward unit would still improve the offense. The 30-year-old forward isn’t a slash signing but one that would upgrade a forward shift and the Islanders could add him to the roster at a minimal hit to the salary cap.
Other Flames the Islanders Can Target
The Flames, in the hope to retain both Gaudreau and Tkachuk, could try to make a handful of trades to open up the cap space needed to keep both players. As a result, they could potentially move a player like Tyler Toffoli, who was acquired at the trade deadline and played a big role in the top two lines. Toffoli isn’t a free agent unit until 2024 and the Islanders would have to trade a few assets to acquire him but he would instantly add to the forward unit and offense as a whole. Similarly, the Flames could look to move Milan Lucic, who has one year left on a contract but costs the team $5.25 million per year, and he would add a forechecking presence to any team that acquires him.
The Islanders will look to upgrade their roster and with veteran players throughout the roster, the team is looking to compete in the upcoming seasons. Lamoriello is facing a crucial offseason in his tenure with the team but a few big moves will pay off tenfold if the team is once again competitive.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.
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