The Derick Brassard experiment on Long Island lasted just one season as the veteran forward is reportedly signing with the Arizona Coyotes.
His departure leaves the New York Islanders with another big question mark to address before the 2021 NHL season starts on Jan. 13.
With tight cap space, a new contract still has to be struck with star center Mathew Barzal while other notable deals including veteran forward Matt Martin, defenseman Andy Green, and goaltender Cory Schneider.
It is expected that all those deals will be announced as soon as Barzal and the Islanders can come to terms.
Due to the Islanders’ lack of cap space, though, they are limping to the start of the regular season with a largely unchanged roster that featured the trading of Devon Toews (for cap relief) and the unofficial retirement of Johnny Boychuk. They didn’t have the room to sign a marquee free agent, losing out on the likes of Mike Hoffman while never really having a chance with Taylor Hall as a top-tier scorer to spark an inconsistent offense.
They also whiffed on Anthony Duclair and Andreas Athanasiou, both of whom would have provided scoring depth on the bottom-six alongside JG Pageau.
Now with less than two weeks to go until the start of the season and with Brassard out, it looks as though the Islanders’ only option is keeping it in-house to round out the third line.
Leo Komarov is a veteran option that could flank Pageau on the wing, but he has scored just 10 goals in 130 games with the Islanders over the last two seasons.
Given the track record of GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, it’s the most likely option — at least for the start of the season — but the Islanders could turn it over to the kids and give them an extended look during a shortened season.
Both Kieffer Bellows (22 years old) and Oliver Wahlstrom (20) are expected to make strong pushes to make the big club this year. Wahlstrom posted eight points (four goals, four assists) in 10 games while on loan with AIK in the second-tier professional league in Sweden earlier this fall.
The youngsters carry a much stronger goal-scoring and offensive threat to their game compared to Komarov and Michael Dal Colle, a system player who encompasses the mindset of playing in Trotz’s defense-first system.
Of course, there is always the wild card of Josh Ho-Sang looming. The mercurial talent has often been at odds with the Islanders since being drafted in 2014 and has yet to break through consistently despite possessing promising playmaking abilities.
Right now, the only thing that is known about the third line is that Pageau is anchoring it. The rest is up for grabs.