The very reason I thought John Tavares would stake his future with the New York Islanders — an unbelievable emerging 1A center in Mathew Barzal, a key piece to most Cup runs — is the very reason the Islanders currently face a big decision in how to approach 2018-19: Now Barzal is 1, and there is no 1A.
So how to approach rebuilding the roster with such a major hole? Urgently, or methodically?
We don’t yet know how Lou Lamoriello is going to approach the post-Tavares reality near-term. Thus far his signings have been depth (declining depth, in my judgment) and Bridgeport upgrades (good ones, in my cursory judgment).
Even with those moves, the Islanders still have the second-most projected cap space according to CapFriendly ($23 million), with a major opening in goal to fill (though none of the remaining free agent goalies should command much cap) among the six 23-man roster spots to fill or re-sign (Ryan Pulock, Brock Nelson).
Lamoriello, and his new coach Barry Trotz, certainly aren’t in the business of waiting around. But they also have to be realistic. It makes you wonder if their approach will pivot on the outside chance of acquiring Erik Karlsson.
The Islanders, according to Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period and a few others, have been in the hunt for Ottawa’s franchise defenseman. (Which, why wouldn’t you be? He’s a generational talent, you have to take your shot.)
More importantly, the Senators have reportedly allowed Karlsson to discuss contract terms with other teams. (Karlsson has one year left on his current contract, and Ottawa is generally a mess. The franchise is all but certain to avoid the Tavares Burn and get what they can for him this summer.)
The Islanders, um, would be wise to only go into this territory if they can somehow convince Karlsson his future belongs in New York.
The Senators are incredibly cost-conscious under Eugene Melnyk, using Charles Wang-level austerity measures, so reportedly they want someone to take Bobby Ryan’s contract in any trade, taking on the final four years with an actual $7.5 million per year payment due on a $7.25 million cap hit for an outstanding forward hobbled by recurring injuries.
The Islanders can afford that, too.
It’s tough to say what Ottawa would be demanding in a Karlsson trade, especially if “you have to take this other $7.5 million contract with it” remains part of the price. After taking heat for their return in the Mike Hoffman trade though, and after being part of the ransom for Matt Duchene, you’d expect they’ll bargain hard on this one.
As an aside, it would be fascinating to see how Barry Trotz would manage the superstar rover. (It’ll also be fascinating to see what he does with Ho-Sang, if given the chance.)
Ho-Sang on the Block?
Related to this, possibly, are rumblings from published but still iffy sources that Joshua Ho-Sang’s name has been in in trade talks.
I won’t cite any yammers here because they seem fourth-hand, but safe to say they exist because it’s a logical inference: Ho-Sang is a high-potential player who one can easily deduce is not a natural fit for the robotic “culture change” that Lamoriello prefers. Hell, Josh is the kind of young player who might even have the nerve to think he should be allowed to sport facial hair in the workplace.
If I’m Ottawa I’d certainly ask for Ho-Sang — but not act like he’s a key piece of any trade — because he’s a buy-low candidate who might pay off for a cheap and struggling team.
And Then You Have de Haan
If the Islanders re-signed Calvin de Haan they would literally bring back the same defense they had for their league-worst goals against last season. But the asterisk to that is that things only got worse, much worse, once de Haan’s season was ended by injury. And presumably Barry Trotz, who could choke the life out of a four-on-four pond hockey afternoon, will bring much-needed structure to the defense.
De Haan’s health record is of some concern, and he’s not an offensive force, but he’s an effective blueliner and there aren’t many of those left via free agency.
Because July 2018 isn’t miserable enough for Islanders fans, there were some reports that the Leafs were among many teams interested in de Haan, who has the leverage of market scarcity right now, and he’s using it.
No way he gets less than $5 million per on the market, but it’s a good bet he’ll get more from someone. (Unless he feels the pull of childhood bedroom dreams and goes to...whichever team a Carp lad roots for as a young boy.)
Do the Islanders go that high, just to restore last year’s blueline? It’s likely their best shot at making 2018-19 a competitive season, unless there’s a major trade in the works.
Which brings us back to the Karlsson saga. It’s a longshot for the Isles, but they have to try. And they can’t really what’s next until they learn whether that’s all a pipe dream.