After reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Islanders had some tough decisions to make during the off-season in terms of the salary cap and putting a roster together for the 2020-21 season. The Islanders did re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Ryan Pulock to a two-year deal, but they dealt defenseman Devon Toews to Colorado for a pair of draft picks. The Islanders would have preferred to keep Toews, but the economic reality was they simply couldn’t.
“Devon simply was not something that we wanted to do,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello during his season ending media conference call on Tuesday.
And now this off-season, after another trip to the NHL’s final four, the Islanders are in a similar situation with salary cap concerns and three restricted free agents in defenseman Adam Pelech, forward Anthony Beauvillier and goalie Ilya Sorokin. All three players are important pieces of the Islanders’ present and future so the objective is to find a way to bring all of them back.
“We have no intention of allowing the three restricted free agents to not be signed,” said Lamoriello.”
The way the business of hockey works these days, it’s impossible to bring an entire roster back, but when you have a core group that has won six playoff series over the last three seasons and are knocking on the door to compete for a Stanley Cup, the goal is to keep as much of the band together as possible. We’re still less than a week removed from the Islanders’ heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Semifinals, so contract negotiations is not the number one feeling right now.
“It’s something that I haven’t given much thought to,” said Pelech who has become one of the best shut down defensemen in the NHL. “Everyone wants this group to stick together and we think we have something special here. We want to have this same group going forward so whatever happens happens and I’m excited to be a part of this team and continue going forward.”
During the regular season, Pelech had 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points and was tied for the team lead with a +15. In the playoffs, Pelech was once again a rock for the Islanders in helping them to playoff series wins over the Penguins and Bruins.
The Islanders weren’t able to close out their final season at Nassau Coliseum with a Stanley Cup championship, but the last game there was certainly memorable. In game six of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime goal gave the Islanders a 3-2 win over the Lightning to force a game seven and it turned “The Barn” into an insane asylum. Beauvillier had 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points during the regular season and then was tied for second on the team in the playoffs with 13 points.
“Obviously want to stay here and have the group stay together,” said Beauvillier. “We have a special bond here. Everyone wants to win together and we’ve been through so much together.”
The Islanders waited a long time for Sorokin to come over to Long Island from Russia. Nicknamed the “White Whale” because of how hard it was to reel him in over the years, the Islanders third round pick in the 2014 draft was outstanding in his rookie season with a record of 13-6 to go along with a goals against average of 2.17 and 3 shutouts. In the playoffs, he won all four games in the opening around against the Penguins.
He enjoyed his first NHL season but he’s not yet concerned about a new deal.
“I don’t think about this,” said Sorokin. “My work is just to stop the puck. I don’t think about a new contract.
It’s going to be a busy off-season for the Islanders. They have to try and retain their RFA’s but they also want to bring back unrestricted free agents Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri. It should be an interesting summer and we’ll see what Lou Lamoriello has up his sleeve.