New York Islanders president and general manager, Lou Lamoriello, worked another bit of magic on Friday when he signed Adam Pelech — arguably the best defensive defenseman in all the NHL — to an eight-year, $46 million contract, which carries an average annual value (AAV) of $5.75 million.
The agreement was the first bit of action that leaked from Islanders camp in a free-agency period that has featured nothing more than speculation from everyone on the outside wondering what Lamoriello — who notoriously keeps his cards glued to the vest — would do after a difficult offseason saw him open up approximately $18 million in cap space by trading the contracts of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd before Jordan Eberle was taken by the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft.
The Islanders still need to officially retain unrestricted free agents in Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri along with restricted free agents in Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier. But the initial domino that fell in Pelech’s retention not only signaled the Islanders keeping their No. 1 blueliner, but that he was willing to take less money annually for more years on a team that is now expected to be a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference.
“This is where I want to be,” Pelech said. “I couldn’t be happier with the term. I think all the guys feel the same way. They know something special is going on here.”
The demeanor surrounding the organization is still one that is met by disbelief from a fan base that once saw top players laugh the Islanders off in free-agency considerations. Now with two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup semifinals under their belt and a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena waiting for them at Belmont Park this November, the Islanders are a destination rather than an afterthought.
That’s why, all of a sudden, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game took a contract whose average annual value is ranked 37th among all blueliners in the NHL.
“A big emphasis on the offseason was to keep this group together as much as we could,” Pelech, who helped that cause with the bargain deal, said. “At the end of the day, if we can keep most of the team together, we’d be thrilled with that. That’s what we want from the offseason. We want to keep this group together, we’re a tight group, and together, we could do something special.”