So, you think you can be an NHL GM? You really think all those years of watching games at home, from the bar or inside Nassau Coliseum, qualify you to make decisions on the Islanders’ roster? If that’s the case, tell me, how would you keep the team’s core intact while staying under the cap and also maneuvering through the NHL’s second Expansion Draft in four-years?
You see, by July 17th at 5pm(EST) Islanders management must submit their protected list to the league. And this is proving to be quite a difficult list to predict with so many variables in play. The Boys from Long Island are up against the cap. They’re coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Semi-Final losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning. There are players who need new contracts as well as players who are eating up far more cap space than they’re worth. But, lucky for us, the Nassaumen have one of the best General Managers in the NHL in the form of Lou Lamoriello.
Lamoriello is like a good magician, he never reveals his secrets. But even for him this is going to be one trick that could prove too difficult to pull off successfully. However, you, the audience are willing him on, so perhaps he has another rabbit in his hat.
The Seattle Kraken will announce who they’ve selected, one player from each team — except for the Golden Knights — on July 21st. And by the time Seattle GM Ron Francis makes the announcement, I’m sure that Lamoriello will have done everything possible to protect those players who are most important to the Isles’ success. In fact, don’t be surprised if Lamoriello makes one or more side deals with Francis to get the Kraken to take a player the Isles don’t mind losing.
With that in mind, here’s what we think the Islanders’ protected list will look like under the 7-3-1 (7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie) format.
LOCKS TO BE PROTECTED: Mathew Barzal; J.G. Pageau; Anders Lee; Anthony Beauvillier; Brock Nelson.
EXEMPT: Oliver Wahlstrom
MOST LIKELY STAYING: Jordan Eberle; Josh Bailey.
Normally, Eberle and Bailey would be considered locks to be protected. But with each touting a cap hit $5M+ and the Isles badly in need of some cap relief, don’t be surprised if one of them gets left out in the wind. Another option is one of them possibly getting traded to the Kraken as part of a side deal to entice Seattle into taking a player the Isles really want gone.
EXPOSED: Matt Martin; Cal Clutterbuck; Casey Cizikas; Leo Komarov; Michael Dal Colle; Kyle Palmieri; Kieffer Bellows; Travis Zajac; Ross Johnston; Andrew Ladd; Austin Czarnik; Otto Koivula.
First things, first. Before you get all outraged at who’s exposed, remember that Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) are almost always left unprotected because they can sign anywhere they want when free agency opens a week after the Expansion Draft.
So that covers: Palmieri; Zajac and Cizikas.
Martin and Clutterbuck make up two-thirds of the Isles’ Identity Line and while they’re useful pieces there’s not enough space to protect them. However, it’s highly unlikely Seattle goes for either of them given each players’ previous disdain towards leaving the Islanders. No point in drafting an unhappy player.
That leaves Dal Colle; Bellows; Komarov; Johnston; Ladd; Czarnik and Koivula. Take your pick, Isles fans. Would you really be displeased if Seattle took any of these forwards? Probably not. In fact, in the case of Ladd, you’re likely rooting for it. (Keep dreaming, the Kraken aren’t taking Ladd unless Lamoriello sends them a James Harden-esque package of first-round draft picks).
LOCKS TO BE PROTECTED: Adam Pelech; Ryan Pulock.
EXEMPT: Noah Dobson.
MOST LIKELY STAYING: Scott Mayfield.
EXPOSED: Nick Leddy; Andy Greene; Thomas Hickey; Braydon Coburn; Sebastian Aho.
Again, UFAs are normally left unprotected, so that explains Greene’s exposure. Hockey, Coburn and Aho are nothing more than depth pieces at this point so there’s not a whole lot to complain about with them being left unprotected.
The real decision here is between Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield. Neither had his best year this past season. But in this case, Mayfield’s youth and lower AAV ($1.45M compared to Leddy’s $5.5M) make the difference.
EXEMPT: Ilya Sorokin.
LOCK TO BE PROTECTED: Semyon Varlamov.
EXPOSED: Ken Appleby.
This is an area of ease for Lamoriello and company. With Sorokin exempt and Varlamov entrenched as the starter, there’s no need to worry about this part of the Isles roster. Appleby is there to fulfill the league’s goalie requirement and there’s nothing more that need be said in regards to the Isles’ netminders.
Basically this boils down to whether or not the Isles leave Leddy or Mayfield unprotected. Whichever one is left out in the cold is likely going to be Seattle’s pick; unless Lamoriello swings a side deal to ensure whoever is left out gets to stay put. There’s always the chance for a surprise here or there, especially with Lamoriello’s track record. But for now it looks like Nick Leddy is the answer to “who’s it going to be?”