For the second straight summer, it appears New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello has a contract stashed away in his top drawer, hidden from his competitors so that he can maneuver his salary cap situation and the NHL trade market to a more favorable spot. Nazem Kadri is this summer’s dirty secret for the Islanders, who figure to get much better and challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metro Division.
The cavalcade of reports and rumors, including those heard by the National Hockey Now family, confirm (or created) the Kadri-to-the-Islanders suspicions, though no one will confirm.
It stunk last summer. It stinks this summer like a dead fish hidden under a driver’s seat for weeks in August heat (that’s a real prank the boys in Johnstown played on the general manager back when the Chiefs existed).
He is operating outside the spirit of the process (again) has (again) clogged the NHL free agent market and the NHL trade market. That multiple reporters at various levels got the story should also tell us there is a lot of smoke from that fire and that not everyone is pleased with the latest revelations.
In succession, our national columnist and Boston scribe Jimmy Murphy texted to say what he heard, but wasn’t comfortable reporting, yet. Then Adrian Dater, who covers the Colorado Avalanche, heard similar and was chasing the story. Elliotte Friedman came to market last week with the rumors, and yesterday our New York Islanders beat writer Stefen Rosner published the sourced piece that it was happening … as soon as Lamoriello solved his cap issues.
Last summer, Kyle Palmieri was one of the contracts tucked in Lamoriello’s top drawer until he could submit it without putting himself in a bad spot.
Palmieri has not had a good run in Long Island and could be properly castigated as one of the goats for a wildly disappointing 2021-22 season (COVID, a terrible schedule, and a few others, too), in which the Islanders missed the playoffs and summarily dismissed head coach Barry Trotz. Pageau was another.
This summer, a few sources let the cat out of the bag. Or blew the whistle. It’s going to be Kadri, though perhaps rival GMs won’t be as keen or able to help Lamoriello. As we noted last week, 12 teams are currently over the NHL salary cap, and another 10 have tightly pressed themselves against the cap.
That means 10 teams are the belle of the ball and can dance with whomever they choose.
New York has a few RFAs to get under contract, including promising defenseman Noah Dobson, newly acquired defenseman Alexander Romanov, and Kieffer Bellows. Rosner projects the Islanders to have only a few million left before Kadri.
As Rosner noted, the Islanders will have to clear significant salary to make Kadri happen. Brock Nelson is a capable second-line center, but would the Islanders cast him aside for a 32-year-old Kadri? Palmieri no longer has great trade value, nor does $5 million third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Lamoriello is the kid trying to lick the cupcakes, so they’re his for later. Perhaps another GM will boldly step forward and snatch Kadri before Lamoriello can make his move. Or, perhaps this market is so clogged that the Islanders will not be able to make their move without significantly wounding their future.
“Glad you called, Lou. Sure, I’ll take Pageau.. … And Dobson. Thanks.”
However, if Lamoriello can pull another sleight-of-hand salary cap trade, the Pittsburgh Penguins will face a revitalized Islanders team.
And a much tougher Metro Division, literally and figuratively.
Last season, four Metro teams made the playoffs. The Penguins finished in the lead pack with the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, and the Washington Capitals coasted to the end. New Jersey added Ondrej Palat to an emerging core this summer with Jack Hughes. The Columbus Blue Jackets added Johnny Gaudreau and will enter this season without tragedy looming in the recent past.
At first glance, the Capitals’ playoff hopes would appear to be in jeopardy. Tom Wilson and Nick Backstrom will be out for months. Backstrom may never return or return as a lesser player after a major hip surgery.
The Boston Bruins are getting old in a hurry. GM Don Sweeney is trying to lure 35-year-old center David Krejci back to the NHL, though neither he nor Patrice Bergeron has yet signed a contract.
The Islanders’ stealthy attempt could also hamper Penguins GM Ron Hextall’s ability to move salary. The Penguins are over the cap and, depending on the math or process you choose, could wiggle under it but only with an uncomfortable 12-forward roster or saying goodbye to an NHL defenseman for nothing in return.
Hextall has plenty of company on the NHL trade front, most out in the open and one trying to hide in the shadows.
The Metro Division is never short on drama.