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NHL Free Agency: Islanders will need to act fast, with backup plans ready to go

The Isles have decision trees to follow at center, wing and defense, but free agent names are already dropping fast.

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NHL: JAN 17 Devils at Islanders
Are they competing for the same dollars?
Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is it too late to take back the Nick Leddy trade?

I jest, of course, but Lou Lamoriello’s first big move to clear needed cap space still looks like the most difficult to fill. In a span of a few days, the Islanders GM cleared out the big cap hits of Leddy, Andrew Ladd (salary dump) and Jordan Eberle (Expansion Draft) in preparation for big raises to come for multiple restricted free agents and hoped-for re-signings of unrestricted free agents Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri.

It’s believed the moves also created room to go big-game hunting on the UFA market, which if successful, might squeeze one of their other preferred re-signings. But if that is indeed their intention (you never know in the Lamoriello Cone of Silence), they’ll need to get quick yes/no answers on Wednesday so they can move to a variety of backup plans.

At the time of the NHL Draft, there appeared to be a variety of soon-to-be-available options to replace Leddy on the left side of the blueline, where Andy Greene’s age looms large.

But as the hours ticked away toward the start of free agency signing period early this week, many of those names were either disappearing outright or being “strongly linked” to other destinations. By late Tuesday:

There may be other younger, signed blueline options believed to be available via trade — Arthur Staple has suggested Hampus Lindholm in Anaheim — and if the Isles don’t connect on the free agent market, that may force them to redouble exploring avenues like that. Or they can go the elder route (or with names unmentioned, such as Ian Cole), but stacking a lot of age on the left side isn’t a desirable route.

Forwards at a Variety of Price Points

That’s the situation on defense, which is the more pressing. But that brings us to forward, where they’ve lost Eberle, they’ll want try to upgrade, and where things are likely to move fast once free agency opens.

The big prize is Colorado winger Gabriel Landeskog, who would seem to be a perfect fit to the Islanders’ style, but who likely will command top dollar and term. [MIDNIGHT UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports Landeskog is off the market, agreeing to eight years at $7 million per to remain in Colorado.] Suggestions had Landeskog in the $9 million range, which would make him the highest paid Islander and also would demand they fill another hole cheaply or internally, such as in Leddy’s blueline spot.

If the Isles are a bidder for Landeskog — who could still just re-sign with the Avalanche before they even get a shot [Edit: There you go. He did.] — they’ll need an answer quick on Wednesday. Because Landeskog would impact what else they can do, including pricing them out of Palmieri or affecting whether they can go for fellow Avalanche UFA Brandon Saad.

Zach Parise is widely forecast to join the Isles, but that’s no guarantee, and he may be a domino in the above chase. Coming off a buyout and a tough season in Minnesota, he should come relatively cheaply, but not league-minimum cheap.

If they miss or don’t even get a crack at Landeskog, there is Vladimir Tarasenko still available via trade. His shoulder history that has concerned other teams remains an issue, but his $7.5 million cap hit is at least less than what Landeskog is expected to command. Still, he would cost assets and then put a squeeze on room for Palmieri, Parise — and oh yeah, Casey Cizikas.

It’s long been a decent bet that Cizikas stays, but if he does it probably won’t be cheap. And if he doesn’t? Here too, the Islanders will need to act swiftly.

Travis Zajac might be a fallback option but he’s certainly not an upgrade, and since the Isles have yet to show much faith in Otto Koivula (though they did issue him a qualifying offer), that’s a shaky route to follow.

But if Cizikas leaves, and the Isles don’t add one of the previously mentioned high-dollar wingers, they’d have room for a more luxurious option such as the similarly versatile Tyler Bozak (again, if he doesn’t re-sign with the Blues).

All of which is to say, despite the names coming off the market Monday and Tuesday, the Isles will still have a variety of options at their positions of need. Those options just depend on a lot of moving parts. So they’ll want quick answers from external free agents that allow them to move to each backup plan.

Hopefully, this is where the brief free agent pre-signing conversation period (which technically doesn’t exist this year, wink wink) has served them well, and their options will already be clear on Wednesday. If things have sounded quiet around the Isles the past few days, that will necessarily change fast as things get underway Wednesday at noon. Tick tock...