Free agency or Patrik Laine blockbuster? Assessing potential paths for Islanders’ top scorer search

Ice Hockey – NHL Global Series – Florida Panthers v Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine (left) and Mike Hoffman (right) are among two potential Islanders targets this offseason. (Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS)

While the Rangers snag a built-in upgrade on their wing with the drafting of Alexis Lafreniere at the 2020 NHL Draft, the Islanders have to find their scoring boost elsewhere this year. 

Lou Lamoriello doesn’t have a draft pick until the third round for a team that made the Eastern Conference Final a month ago and is in desperate need of a top-line scorer. That obviously isn’t coming in the draft — though it wouldn’t have come anyway even if they had a first-round pick. 

It leaves the Islanders to find that pure goalscorer on either the free-agent or trade market. 

The last few weeks have provided a whirlwind of rumors, but even more speculation, as the hockey world and Islanders fan base alike tries to ascertain what the team’s plan is this offseason. 

For those who have any iota of hockey knowledge, however, know that Lamoriello likes to keep his cards extremely close to the vest, which makes anyone trying to play Nostradamus’ job that much more difficult. 

The three most-talked-about names linked with the Islanders, however, have been Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman, and Patrik Laine — the former two as free agents while Laine is reportedly being shopped by the Winnipeg Jets. 

Any of the three would provide an invaluable scoring boost, and are on another level compared to the second tier of potential targets such as the New Jersey Devils’ Kyle Palmieri or the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn. 

But what would be the best option Lamoriello could go with?

They don’t have much space to simply sign either Hall or Hoffman considering there’s roughly $8.9 million in cap space to currently work with, according to Cap Friendly

Lamoriello made it clear that a top priority was to retain the core of his team that was up for free agency this year and he did just that already. The Islanders announced on Monday that they tendered qualifying offers to Mathew Barzal, Devon Toews, Ryan Pulock, Josh Ho-Sang, Kyle Burroughs, Grant Hutton, Mitch Vande Sompel, and Parker Wotherspoon.

For the Islanders to sign those highly-coveted free agents — who could command between $6 million and $8 million annually — some cap gymnastics would have to be done to free up space, meaning Lamoriello will have to dumb numerous sizable contracts whether it’s Johnny Boychuk’s, Nick Leddy’s, or Andrew Ladd’s. 

It won’t be easy to find a team that would take on such money, but it might be easier to pull off a blockbuster trade for Laine. 

The Jets are reportedly looking for a second-pairing defenseman and a second-line center for their sniping right-winger. The Islanders wouldn’t necessarily have an issue offering up a blueliner in the form of Toews, but the second-line center would be a big ask. 

New York would have to sell the Jets on taking a prospect line Oliver Wahlstrom instead of entertaining talks that would likely feature Brock Nelson, who is a veteran, integral part of the Islanders’ resurgence. 

Given Lamoriello’s past comments, that would make a deal for Laine all but impossible unless prospects will do — but given the 22-year-old sniper’s ability, that might not be enough. 

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