Since it is the time of year for such exercises, and since the Maple Leafs are the topic du jour around the NHL, let’s do some wondering aloud about whether the Islanders can take advantage of the situation in Toronto.
The Leafs, plunged into chaos by the surprise firing of GM Kyle Dubas, officially hired former Calgary general manager Brad Treliving to take over the role on Wednesday. As you are doubtless aware, the status of everyone from coach Sheldon Keefe to the Core Four of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to the 10 pending unrestricted free agents on Toronto’s roster is under intense scrutiny.
Dubas, who initially said he would take the year off if he didn’t return to Toronto, has been heavily linked to the open general manager position with the Penguins, the presumption being that his stance changed with Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan’s sudden reversal on whether to bring him back.
Our parlor game here will be whether the Islanders, who have avoided making the sort of major changes that seem afoot in Toronto thus far, could make use of any assets — players, coaches, front office — that might be on the move from the Leafs, and whether any potential moves might be realistic. This is, mostly, meant to be just for fun, since we don’t yet know Treliving’s outlook on making changes to Toronto’s roster. But let’s get to it.
Not coming to the Island under any circumstances whatsoever: John Tavares
Very funny. Next.
Not a fit unless the Islanders make big changes: David Kampf (UFA), Noel Acciari (UFA), Erik Gustafsson (UFA), Wayne Simmonds (UFA), Zach Aston-Reese (UFA)
As constructed, the Islanders are more or less set in three places: center, left-side defense and in their bottom six. If the opportunity for a major upgrade were to present itself, then that of course would be a different calculus, but none of these players really represent that.
Gustafsson might be better than Sebastian Aho or Samuel Bolduc next year, and he can play on the power play, so maybe you could construct a scenario where adding him makes sense.
But Aho just had the best year of his career, Bolduc is a player set to challenge for NHL minutes next season and that side of the depth chart will already be tight, since Adam Pelech and Alexander Romanov aren’t going anywhere. Adding another player there seems counterintuitive.
Would help the Islanders, but hard to see happening: Auston Matthews, Ryan O’Reilly (UFA)
Whether or not Matthews, a free agent next summer, signs an extension is a huge question hanging over the Leafs this offseason, and presumably the top priority for Treliving.
It’s tough to see him leaving, but if that were to happen, the Islanders don’t seem like a fit.
They’d need to clear significant cap room to fit Matthews, even under his current $11.6 million hit, and already have depth at center. And that’s without getting into the mechanics of what a trade for Matthews, a perennial Hart Trophy candidate, would actually look like.
O’Reilly would be a cheaper option, but again: adding a center doesn’t make much sense for a team that already has five good options at the position.
Probably a pipe dream, but worth a phone call: Mitch Marner, William Nylander
It would be a major surprise to see Toronto part with either of these players, and an even bigger surprise to see the Islanders land one. But both players developed in the Leafs’ system and made their NHL debuts under Lou Lamoriello, and would instantly fill a hole on the Islanders’ depth chart.
Marner’s two-way game and penalty-killing ability, in particular, would be a strong fit in the Isles’ system.
That said, the asking price for either player would be large, and that’s without getting into the salary cap mechanics.
Nylander, whose cap hit is $6.9 million next season, might be doable on that end, but Marner, at $10.9 million, would require some gymnastics.
If you presume Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat are untouchable, then any deal for Nylander or Marner would have to start with one of Brock Nelson or Jean-Gabriel Pageau, plus one of the Isles’ top-four defenseman.
In other words, it’s probably not happening.
Staff: Sheldon Keefe, Kyle Dubas
It looks like Lane Lambert will be behind the Islanders’ bench again next season, and, according to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman, Treliving is more likely than not to retain Keefe, so you can probably rule that out.
As for Dubas, Pittsburgh has always looked like his destination, but if that falls through, maybe the Islanders could be an option. He does have a strong relationship with Lamoriello, and they were part of the same front office in Toronto from 2015-18.
The question is what kind of say he’d get in hockey decisions, since Lamoriello doesn’t look ready to give up the reins just yet.
It would be surprising to see Dubas take a job where he had to play second fiddle in that department, especially given the reports indicating he wanted more decision-making power in Toronto prior to his exit.
Still, there is a relationship here, and Dubas is a highly-regarded hockey mind. It would be foolish of the Islanders not to at least try to sound him out about a front office role.
More realistic options: Michael Bunting (UFA), Alexander Kerfoot (UFA), Justin Holl (UFA), Luke Schenn (UFA)
It only took 950 words to get to realistic scenarios, but here we are. If the Islanders are going to get anyone who was a member of the 2022-23 Leafs, these are the four players who both fill a need for them and could come at an affordable price.
Bunting and Kerfoot were both middle-six wingers in Toronto who would likely become top-six options with the Islanders, ironically as possible replacements for former middle-six Leafs winger Pierre Engvall.
Bunting has scored 23 goals each of the last two seasons and would add a proven scoring output on the wing to a roster very much in need of it.
Kerfoot would be a bit more of a swing in that department, but Lamoriello has already successfully hit on one ex-Leaf in that department with Engvall.
It might be a bit of a squeeze for the Islanders to get either player — exactly what the cap space outlook for the summer looks like depends heavily on the resolution to Josh Bailey’s situation, but if he is bought out, the Isles will have approximately $7.67 million to work with before any restricted free agents are brought back. But both would be reasonable targets.
As for Holl or Schenn, they could become options if the Islanders decide not to bring back Scott Mayfield. Both are right-handed defensemen with good reputations — Schenn won a pair of Cups with the Lightning — who could easily slot into the versatile role Mayfield played on the right side, perhaps at a lower cost.
But if the Islanders were to let Mayfield walk in free agency, it would be ideal to try and bring in someone less defense-oriented, who could help them in transition and on the power play, which is not the strength of either soon-to-be free agent.
For prospect watchers
As the Memorial Cup reaches the end of the round-robin stage in Kamloops, British Columbia, the Islanders have one player in action with Daylan Kuefler of the host Kamloops Blazers. Kuefler, who will join AHL Bridgeport next season on an entry-level deal, was the Isles’ sixth-round pick in last summer’s draft and finished the Western Hockey League season with 31 goals and 30 assists.
Going into Wednesday night’s round-robin finale against the Seattle Thunderbirds, Kuefler had a goal and an assist in the tournament, both coming in an 8-3 loss to the Quebec Remparts.
If the Islanders could undo one transaction from the last decade, dealing Carter Verhaeghe to the Lightning for Kristers Gudlevskis in July 2017 would have to be in the running.
It did take Verhaeghe some time to become an NHL regular, but the 27-year-old has experienced a breakout season with the Panthers, scoring 42 goals with 31 assists during the regular season and thus far averaging nearly a point per game in the playoffs.
Verhaeghe, a Maple Leafs draftee, was dealt to the Islanders in Sept. 2015 as part of a five-player package in a deal that sent Michael Grabner to Toronto. He spent two seasons shuttling between AHL Bridgeport and ECHL Missouri.
It’s hard to blame the Islanders for missing on him — so did the Leafs and Lightning — but their roster could sorely use a player in the mold of the high-scoring winger.