It's the middle of August, and Nazem Kadri is still a free agent. It's almost unthinkable, but it makes you wonder if he's signed with the one team that has a general manager who doesn't see it necessary to announce signings.
That team is the New York Islanders, and that general manager is Lou Lamoriello. There appeared to be some smoke when Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported an offer on the table for the former Colorado Avalanche center. However, Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff extinguished that fire last week when he said that Kadri turned it down and is still talking to other teams.
There are fans in the New York area who are hoping that maybe Kadri is, in fact, an Islander already and that there will be a reveal in training camp. Anyone familiar with the way Lamoriello operates knows that he works in total secrecy. But this is a little shortsighted.
If Kadri had already signed a contract, it would have passed through the NHL Central Registry. I find it hard to believe that multiple insiders wouldn't find out about a transaction of that magnitude. Could he have a handshake deal in place with the Islanders? It's certainly possible.
But does it even make sense for this club? He would make the Islanders better, but it's not exactly a good fit.
The Islanders already have three centers in Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Kadri, a Stanley Cup winner coming off an 87-point season, isn't signing with a team to play on the fourth line. He could move out to the wing, but two sources have told me that he isn't as effective there.
It's worth noting that he played on the wing during the Stanley Cup Final and did well there. The Avs wanted to minimize the impact on his injured thumb, so a move to the wing prevented him from having to take faceoffs.
He scored a goal in Game 4 of the Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (although Jon Cooper probably still thinks it shouldn't have counted).
If moving Kadri to the wing is the plan, the Islanders will need to clear some salary-cap space. The logical candidate to be moved is winger Anthony Beauvillier, who does not have no-trade protection and has a cap hit of $4.2 million over each of the next two years.
You could make the argument for Pageau, but Lamoriello gave up a lot to acquire him in 2020 and is unlikely to give up on a player that took so much to get.
Pageau might not produce points at the same rate as Kadri, but he kills penalties, he's a better defender and he's two years younger than Kadri, who will turn 32 in October. His $5 million cap hit doesn't break the bank, and he's signed at that number through 2025-26.
Not to mention, Pageau has a limited no-trade clause.
Is Lamoriello looking for some blockbuster move like trading Barzal? I sincerely doubt it. Barzal is only 25 and a top center in the league. Ownership would be foolish to sign off on that trade.
But speaking of Barzal, we need to look at the salary cap.
The Isles currently have a little more than $11 million in cap space this season, but they still need to re-sign restricted free agents Kieffer Bellows, Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson.
Barzal's bridge deal only runs through 2023, making him an RFA next summer. Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov will be unrestricted free agents next summer, and goaltender Ilya Sorokin will be one in two years. Sorokin had the second-best save percentage in the league last season, and he makes this club a contender.
The Isles would be smart to keep Varlamov, a very good backup, around this year as well, considering how tough the goalie market is right now. They could probably trade him to the Vegas Golden Knights to clear cap space, but there aren't any good options for backups left on the market, and Bridgeport goalie Ken Appleby isn't the answer either.
That's a lot of business for Lamoriello to take care of, and he will need to plug some holes in the coming years.
Kadri might want $9 million per year, but getting that money on Long Island would mean the club would have to part with key talent. And even though he reportedly wants to play for a contender, the reality is that he might not be able to get that kind of money from one. The flat cap isn't going up by much anytime soon, and close to half of the league is already over the cap.
Is He Really Needed?
Isles fans see this as adding offense to a team that didn't generate a whole lot of it last season. New York's 2.79 goals per game was 10th-worst in the league. Adding a two-time 30-goal scorer would help with the quest for offense and could bring some excitement to the new UBS Arena.
Fans have every right to be frustrated by Lamoriello's seeming inaction this summer. He traded away a first-round pick for Romanov, who has shown promise but did struggle with the Montreal Canadiens. He fired a popular coach in Barry Trotz and promoted Trotz's longtime assistant, Lane Lambert. He whiffed on Johnny Gaudreau.
But this team was only a game away from the Stanley Cup Final last summer. The 2021-22 Islanders were undone by a brutal travel schedule, COVID-19 and injuries to key players. Trotz's defensive system doesn't really produce a lot of offense, but Lambert can now put his own stamp on the team by having them play in a way that facilitates more scoring.
This is a loaded Metropolitan Division, with the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets looking ready to jump back into the postseason fray. The New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes are still contenders, and the Washington Capitals should be a playoff team, too.
Adding Kadri but subtracting a young, cost-controlled player like Beauvillier or a backup goalie like Varlamov doesn't make this club that much better than it already is right now, especially if he has to move to the wing.
There are a lot of pros to adding someone like Kadri, but there might be just a few more cons for the Isles.
All salary cap info courtesy of CapFriendly.com