Nazem Kadri, one of the top free agents available this summer, remains unsigned after a career season of 87 points (29 goals, 58 assists) with the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
The radio silence from his representation further fuels speculation that he could be reuniting with his former boss, Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, after the two worked together with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
One of the most well-known truths in hockey is that Lamoriello likes to perform under a complete shroud of mystery — withholding information about transactions in what he sees as a competitive advantage over rivals.
The Islanders are the only team in the NHL who have not made a free-agent signing. Nor have they announced any agreements with crucial restricted free agents like defensemen Noah Dobson and the newly-acquired Alexander Romanov.
It’s a maddening process for everyone involved, though it keeps the speculation train rolling at full speed as the calendar flips to August.
Say, for speculation’s sake, that the Islanders have in fact come to an agreement with Kadri — that doesn’t quite mean that the Islanders have made their big splash and are ready to make a push back toward the playoffs.
In fact, it opens the door to some pretty important questions.
Who switches positions?
Kadri is a natural center who hasn’t played the wing since his very early pro days more than a decade ago. So he doesn’t necessarily fit the Islanders’ overwhelming need for an elite goal-scoring winger.
On top of that, the team seems rather set down the middle with Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas providing a rock-solid foundation for the forward group.
Asking Kadri to move to the wing and be that huge goal-scoring threat seems like an unfair and preposterous ask, so who would shift from center?
Brock Nelson is a prime candidate to do so considering he played at the wing throughout the early portions of his career. The problem of just throwing him back there not only forces him to tweak the game that he has grown comfortable in, but doing so comes after he put up a career year of 37 goals at the center position.
He did some of his best work with Anders Lee flanking him at the left wing — the two combining for 24 goals in March. Breaking up that duo rather than seeing what they could do in a full season could be seen as a puzzling move.
There have been conversations around social media suggesting that first-line center Mathew Barzal could shift to the wing, but the star has never taken a professional shift at the wing spot and the entire mission of this offseason was to find the right scoring threat to flank alongside him to maximize his playmaking abilities.
What does the first line look like?
In what would be the most non-sensical scenario, first-year head coach Lane Lambert would put Kadri — whose limited experience on the wing is at the left side — on Barzal’s left with Kyle Palmieri on the right.
That would keep Nelson at the center spot on the second line with Lee on his left.
Another scenario would be to put Nelson on right wing on the first line with Barzal in the middle and Lee on the left. That keeps the partnership together with the playmaking capabilities of Barzal to be the facilitator of the group.
Kadri would then slot down as the second-line center in a more natural position with Palmieri providing a formidable right-wing option.
Is there another shoe to drop?
There would have to be. Not only will the Islanders have to clear up cap space for what is expected to be a decently-sized Kadri deal, but they’ll also have a surplus of forwards.
It mainly boils down to the big contracts of Josh Bailey ($5 million AAV) and Anthony Beauvillier ($4.15 AAV) as obvious candidates to be offloaded to give Lamoriello some breathing space while ensuring a spot on the roster remains open for Oliver Wahlstrom, who will be looked upon to take another step forward in his development in 2022-23.
If Kadri is added to the roster and no other changes are made, though, one of those forwards will be the odd man out.
There is the much-less-likely scenario that Lamoriello is working on another deal involving a package of some combination of those forwards to try and get that legitimate goal-scoring forward — like a Vladimir Tarasenko — but I’m not here to get your hopes up. I’m simply listing this as a potential option to alleviate a logjam should Kadri make his way to Long Island.