We’re now nearly three weeks out from the opening NHL free agency and Nazem Kadri, the consensus No. 2 available free agent when the window opened, is still without a deal.
Or so we think.
Over the past week or so, there have been credible whispers that Kadri has signed a deal with the New York Islanders and Lou Lamoriello — as he’s wont to do — is biding his time before filing it with the league office. Lamoriello worked a similar angle last season when the Isles waited until Sept. 1 to make official the deals they signed with Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, Casey Cizikas, Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier.
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A year later and Lamoriello is pulling off a similar hushed song and dance with RFAs Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov and Kieffer Bellows, all the while trying to make splashes behind the scenes, like wooing Kadri or getting involved in the Matthew Tkachuk sweepstakes. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Where there’s silence, there’s Lou Lamoriello.
It is believed that Dobson and Romanov have new deals in place with the Isles, but it’s anybody’s guess what the AAV on those deals will be, which makes it quite the exercise to figure out how much money Lamoriello would need to move out to make room for Kadri and/or another impact player.
Lamoriello’s ability to keep things quiet — you’re just as likely to find out a big Isles scoop from a local caddy than a well-connected beatwriter at this point — makes it difficult to get ahead of the betting market on the Islanders. We have a decent idea of what every team in the NHL will look like heading into training camp in six weeks, but the Islanders are, allegedly, still working on landing a big fish.
That volatility is reflected somewhat in the futures market as the pricing on the Isles is all over the place. While most oddsmakers, like FanDuel, BetMGM and PointsBet have the Islanders between +3000 and +3500, Caesars has them at +2500 and DraftKings is on an island with the Isles sitting at +4500, which puts them in the same tier as the Devils, Senators and Stars.
(Before going into how Kadri would impact the betting outlook on the Islanders, it should be noted that, even without Kadri, +4500 is an attractive price on the Islanders, while +2500 is way too low even if they do sign him. A good reminder to always shop around for the best number.)
At the risk of being proven a fool by Lamoriello again, it does seem fair to say that the Islanders are the consensus frontrunners to land Kadri. Not only are the league’s insiders and newsmongers pointing Kadri to Long Island, but it’s also the process of elimination. In the week before free agency Kadri was linked to a number of teams like the Rangers, Penguins, Kraken, Flames, Red Wings, Flyers and Avalanche, but that list has significantly dwindled and when the dust settled, there were the Isles, the only team yet to sign a free agent to an NHL deal.
This may sound like a familiar saga for Islander fans who are tired of watching their team miss out on big free agents like Ryan Smyth, Chris Drury, Artemi Panarin and Johnny Gaudreau, but (famous last words here) this time around does feel a little different compared to the other situations (especially the Gaudreau one where it’s been credibly reported that the Islanders were never even in on the newest Blue Jacket).
So with the days now turning to weeks without a Kadri announcement, the working theory is that the 2022 Stanley Cup champion and Lamoriello have a deal in place and it’s now up to the Isles general manager to move some money around to make room.
Which begs the question: How much of an impact would Kadri have on the Islanders, especially since they’re already deep at center and will need to shuffle things around to accommodate what seems like an imperfect fit?
In terms of the betting market, it would be wholly surprising to see the market shift all that much on the news of a Kadri signing. That isn’t to say it wouldn’t be a good move for the Islanders for next season — it would — but Kadri isn’t a game-breaker in the same vein of Gaudreau or Patrick Kane (who the Islanders could also be working to nab).
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That may sound like it’s not a ringing endorsement for a bet on the Isles, it’s actually good news for punters who are keen on the Islanders to be a potential buy-low team in 2022-23. The Isles already have a strong foundation in place with Ilya Sorokin, a strong blueline and a deep forward group, but there are legitimate questions, especially after last season, whether or not this group has the pieces to contend in the competitive Metropolitan Division. A game-changing scorer to ride shotgun alongside Mat Barzal would change that tune, but for now it seems like the focus is on bringing in Kadri to solidify positions of strength rather than shore up some weaknesses.
And while a potential move for Kadri is being met with some resistance — most of the pushback is about how his hypothetical contract, which is being signed after a career year with a generational offensive team, would age later in the agreement — those are worries for down the road, not right now. The Islanders are, whether realistic or not, trying to win the Stanley Cup next season. And even if he doesn’t turn them into a bona fide favorite overnight, there is no doubt that Kadri, whose chip-on-his-shoulder ethos is a perfect match for the Isles, helps with that goal.
And it’s not just intangibles that Kadri brings to the table. He’s twice hit the 32-goal mark in his NHL career and is averaging 0.76 points per game over his last six seasons, which is surely buoyed by a likely unrepeatable 87-point campaign with the high-flying Avs in 2021-22. But even if you draw a line through last season, Kadri is still producing 0.66 points per contest over the previous five seasons and 0.64 points per game in his career.
In other words, you’d be adding a 50-60 point player to a team that had just three of them last season. The Islanders are in no position to thumb their noses at adding that kind of player to their roster, even if it means that they need to deal Anthony Beauvillier to make room for it (there are rumors that the player moving out could be Josh Bailey, but that doesn’t seem to be the case).
As things stand right now, the Islanders are being priced as the fifth-best team in a division they were favored to win — with a very similar roster — a year ago. It’s fair to argue whether or not the Isles should be a little higher up on the board, perhaps ahead of Washington, but it’s more than understandable that they’re priced this way. They were really disappointing last season.
But a move for Kadri, coupled with the shrewd addition of Romanov to take over for Zdeno Chara (who is 23 years his senior) on the second-pairing, would make the Islanders a better team — at least in terms of their roster (it’s anybody’s guess how Lane Lambert fares as a rookie head coach) — going into this season than they were last fall, when they were considered a Stanley Cup contender. And when you look it at that way, all of a sudden those 35/1 and 45/1 tickets on the Islanders become very tempting.