The New York Islanders came to within one win of a berth in last year’s Stanley Cup Final losing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like all 32 National Hockey League franchises, the Islanders will look to bolster their team ahead of next season. One way to accomplish such a feat is through free agency.
Heading into this offseason, the Islanders have a plethora of players set to hit unrestricted free agency. These names include Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, Casey Cizikas, Kyle Palmieri, and Braydon Coburn. The Islanders will have a bit of a different look to their roster ahead of the 2021-2022 campaign. Who are some potential names that can make headlines? Who are some players which general manager Lou Lamoriello may covet? Let’s find out.
Brandon Saad, Age 28, Left-Wing
First up is Saad, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month. Over the course of his nine-year NHL career, Saad has established himself as a useful, versatile, and reliable middle-six winger. Whether a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, or Colorado Avalanche, Saad has consistently made his play, grit, and goal-scoring acumen do the talking. These qualities (among others) should make Saad a hot commodity this summer and a prime target for many teams searching for some added punch on the wing.
For a team like the Islanders, who love depth, experience, and size throughout their lineup, Saad would be an excellent acquisition on so many levels. As a player, he’s skilled, strong on the puck, and a six-time 20 plus goalscorer. In addition, he’s also won two Stanley Cups, both as a member of the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. He’s competitive, loves to play a heavy and “in your face” style of game, and would fit in like a new glove on the Island. Lamoriello should make a strong pitch to Saad and his agent ahead of this month’s free-agency period.
Casey Cizikas, Age 30, Center
Next up is Mr. Islander himself. In today’s NHL, it’s not often we hear about players who have played their entire careers with one franchise. Cizikas is one of those players. Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and a former fourth-round draft pick of the Isles back in 2009, Cizikas bleeds Islander blue and then some.
As a player, Cizikas is an intelligent, savvy, and physical fourth-line centerman that any team would be lucky to have. A born leader, who wears his heart on his sleeve, Cizikas has become a fan favourite on Long Island. He’s done this with his strong personality, work ethic, and propensity for big hits and timely goals. Cizikas is beloved by the Islanders coaching staff and the consummate pro and teammate. The issue is that his five-year, $16.75 million contract is set to expire on July 28.
Although we’re not privy to the day-to-day occurrences inside the Islanders front office, we can infer that it’s going to be a challenge for New York to dish out over $4 million on a fourth-line centerman. However, Lamoriello does have a reputation for player transactions and contract negotiations which spells good news for Islanders fans. If they can “make the money work”, a contract extension for Cizikas would be music to the ears of those passionate (and highly vocal) fans down in Uniondale, New York. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Mike Reilly, Age 27, Defenseman
Reilly rounds out our list as a potential offseason target for the Islanders. At age 27, Reilly has rounded out his game to become an effective and reliable staple on the blue-line. Comfortable in both a top-four or bottom-pair role, Reilly is coming off his best season as a pro. Although he never found the back of the net, the Chicago, Illinois native tallied 27 assists in 55 games with both the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. In addition, Reilly also finished 2020-2021 with a plus-five rating in 19:17 worth of ice-time. Impressive numbers for a player who certainly flies under the radar, to say the least.
What we should admire about Reilly’s game is his ability to keep it simple, and be effective every shift. He possesses good size (6’1, 200 pounds), and is a slick and effortless skater. Reilly has a good first pass, and never seems to be fazed by the moment. On a team like the Islanders which already possess the likes of Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Nick Leddy, and Noah Dobson, Reilly would be a phenomenal addition to a mean and versatile d-core. His services will be in high demand this summer, but if Lamoriello can “pull the trigger” and reel in Reilly, this would be a massive score (no pun intended) for the Isles.
For a team that qualified for the final four in back-to-back seasons, expectations will once again be high for the Islanders as they look towards next season. Who will the club add? Who is on the outside looking in? What tricks does Lamoriello, the wily-old vet himself, have in store? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @TapetoTape88
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