Arthur Staple had a good look at the current batch of unrestricted free agents the Islanders had on the roster at the end of the 2018-19 season, with some guesses as to who stays, and who goes.
If you’re not an Athletic subscriber, sorry about your luck, but suffice it to say Art thinks Lee, Lehner and Nelson come back, Eberle doesn’t, and likely either Fillipula or Fritz comes back as the 3C.
Now, Isles fans might not be too enthused about keeping that much of a lineup that struggled to score goals, as we saw in the Carolina sweep, but I also get where he’s coming from. Lee is your captain, you can’t let your captain walk for a second straight year. You figure out how to get him signed before July 1 hits. The same with Lehner. He was brilliant this season, he’s young, and you take advantage of the current good feelings everyone has, and the small number of teams truly looking for a starter, and get him signed long term as well.
Then it gets a little more complicated. He likes the idea of bringing back Nelson to play center. I know a lot of Isles fans would like to see an upgrade, but as Art points out, the only clear upgrade over Nelson available on the UFA market, is Matt Duchene. If you don’t hit that home run, who’s playing center for one of your top two lines? Of course, that assumes Brock opts to come back. With the dirge of UFA centers out there, someone might come offering a ton of money for Nelson. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Speaking of someone who’s going to get offered more than the Isles are probably willing to pay, Eberle will likely end up signing elsewhere, which creates a hole on the wing. The Isles may be able to replace Ebs in free agency though, (dare we dream of Panarin?) or through a trade of some sort.
Then we get further down the lineup, to the 3C spot. Val Fillipula actually had a decent season, and management seems to like him “in the room”. He’s replaceable, no doubt, and 35, but could the Isles bring him back on another one year deal? They could, but so could some other teams as well. If that happens, and he’s healthy, it may be Tanner Fritz time at the 3C spot, though that is a huge question mark for many reasons.
Kuhnackl, Sbisa and Seidenberg are spare parts, and easily replaceable. Any of them could be back, or not.
The other questions about the makeup of next season’s roster are how much of Ladd and Clutterbuck are we actually going to see? Both are signed, but both ended the season injured. In Ladd’s case make that injured AGAIN. Does Lou go out and get players to replace them, or does he fill in with young players and hope they make it back, or the kids shine?
This is where many are assuming a trade is coming, and Nick Leddy seems the most likely to get shipped out. What he’s shopped for is going to largely be determined by what happens in free agency, and with those injuries. Will the Isles be in search of a top 6 center, or a couple of scoring wingers? Is Dal Colle or one of the other Isles prospects ready to play in the top 6? I’m not sold on that.
And, sadly, what happens in free agency may have a lot more to do with what is happening, or not happening, in Belmont, than on the ice.
Of course, if Lee and Lehner sign elsewhere, then it’s all a mess, and I could see Lou and coach Barry Trotz completely rebuilding this team around Barzal and the young defense. But it won’t be pretty for a while.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. This was a nice 103 point, playoff series winning, team this season, albeit one with a lot of impending free agents. Let’s hope they all don’t want to bolt now.
If I am giving a prediction, in my completely uneducated opinion, I’d say Lee, Lehner, and Fillipula are back. Leddy and a prospect are traded for a center, they sign a couple of mid-range free agents, and Dal Colle better be ready to step up and provide offense.
Or none of that will happen. Who knows?