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The New York Islanders will be looking to add this offseason, with the need for a top forward even more apparent after missing the playoffs.
Obviously, the Islanders could either look to free agency, the trade market, or both. There’s a quality group of free agent wingers the Islanders could target, with the biggest names being Johnny Gaudreau and Filip Forsberg, while the likes of David Perron and Andre Burakovsky also remain viable options.
Obviously, the biggest benefit of free agency is that the team bypasses giving up assets. That said, cap space may be the biggest asset of all and if the Islanders are looking to go after a big name like Gaudreau or Forsberg, they’ll have to win a bidding war and likely end up overpaying.
A main issue is the organization will certainly have is the need to clear cap space just to be able make any sort of major free agency acquisition. That said, they’ll likely end up in the same spot if they try to go the trade route instead.
In any deal, the Islanders would need to move out a player first, but acquiring a forward in a trade could still mean multiple moves. If you look at the Minnesota Wild’s situation with Kevin Fiala, for example, the entire reason the Wild would be forced to move on from Fiala is due to their cap concerns. So despite Minnesota being a competitive team now, any deal with the Islanders would likely have to center around future assets and New York would have to try to shed salary in a different deal anyways.
There are teams who would be able to take back salary in a trade and the Islanders do have some players of value they could move in a separate deal to clear space, like Semyon Varlamov, but even if they clear space in separate moves, it would come at the expense of future assets. In any trade for a high-end forward, we can bet it means them shipping out the 13th overall pick with a roster player like Oliver Wahlstrom or some key prospects.
Given that New York will have to clear cap space to bring anyone in regardless, the ideal option would be to try to move out the likes of Varlamov and Josh Bailey to create major cap space, then legitimately take a swing at a major free agent this offseason. The Islanders can likely get a player at a better cap hit via trade but the assets they’re likely to give up in any deal for a top forward aren’t worth the cap benefits they’d see, rather than just going the free agency route.
The Islanders have a key opportunity to build for the future with the 13th overall pick and don’t have enough young talent to package the likes of Wahlstrom or other prospects in a trade. While nothing should be truly off the table, overpaying in free agency may present as the better option.
Of course, it still comes down to what kind of a contract top free agents would warrant but managing to go after a free agent while preserving future assets is possibly New York’s best option. They need to move out salary to bring anyone in, whether that be through free agency or trade, meaning free agency is likely still the ideal place to start.
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