After checking the first box of the offseason by re-signing Ilya Sorokin, Scott Mayfield, Pierre Engvall and Semyon Varlamov to long-term extensions on Saturday, Lou Lamoriello made no secret of his desire to hit the trade market, calling it “the next step” for the Islanders.
Given the team’s lack of salary-cap space, that is really the only step available for Lamoriello to make a major improvement to a roster that barely made the playoffs last season.
And an obvious target has presented itself in the form of Senators winger Alex DeBrincat, with reports out of Ottawa listing the Islanders among an interested group of teams for the restricted free agent, who is available after refusing to sign a long-term extension with the Senators.
On a conceptual level, there’s a lot of reason for the Islanders to pursue the 25-year-old DeBrincat.
Mainly, he would help fill what is inarguably the biggest need on the roster: a top-six winger capable of scoring 30 goals a season and contributing to a power play that was nothing short of awful last season.
And if you are trying to put pieces together in a potential deal, it is easy to construct a pathway with Jean-Gabriel Pageau as the centerpiece of a return package.
Pageau is an Ottawa native who played eight seasons for the Senators, so it’s unlikely the Islanders would run into issues with him not wanting to play in Ottawa despite a 16-team no-trade clause.
Pageau’s $5 million salary would also be a significant chunk of the money the Islanders would need to move in order to afford DeBrincat, and moving a center makes sense for the Islanders, who were forced to play Mathew Barzal at wing last season to accommodate Bo Horvat’s arrival.
Trading Pageau would allow Barzal to return to center and create a 1-2-3 combination at the position of Barzal, Horvat and Brock Nelson that would be one of the best in the league.
At the same time, it would let DeBrincat slot neatly alongside Barzal, solving the problem created by taking Barzal off Horvat’s wing.
This all makes an alarming amount of sense for the Islanders.
Whether it will actually happen is more of a question.
Remember, the Islanders have been down this road before with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri and Artemi Panarin, all of whom were heavily rumored to come to Long Island as free agents before going elsewhere.
A trade is different in principle, but DeBrincat, a restricted free agent, will have a major say in his destination, since whoever trades for him will want to feel comfortable that he’ll be signing a long-term extension.
The entire situation with DeBrincat, whose agent Jeff Jackson has reportedly been given permission to speak with teams other than Ottawa, seems messy.
Until recently, the Red Wings seemed like an obvious destination for the Farmington Hills, Mich. native, but things have evidently hit an impasse there.
A long list of teams, including the Islanders, are reportedly interested, but whether they’re willing or able to pay DeBrincat the money he wants is a different story.
The Islanders could have a problem there, too.
After their slew of extensions on Saturday, the Isles have just $1.08 million in space left before re-signing Oliver Wahlstrom and, possibly, Zach Parise.
So to afford DeBrincat, they would need to clear approximately the same amount of money they’d be paying him this season.
For the sake of argument, let’s say an eventual extension comes in around the $8 million range.
Pageau is over half of that figure.
But exactly where the other $3 million comes from isn’t immediately obvious, other than it would almost certainly be from the forward group since the goaltenders and top-four defensemen are all but untouchable and Scott Mayfield and Samuel Bolduc just signed new deals.
Barzal, Horvat, Engvall and Hudson Fasching have all recently signed new deals as well.
Nelson isn’t moving if Pageau is going. Anders Lee is the captain — moving him would be a stunner.
Kyle Palmieri has a 16-team no-trade clause and though the specifics aren’t known, Canadian teams tend to be the victims of such clauses at a disproportionate rate.
That leaves Wahlstrom, the Identity Line, Ross Johnston and Simon Holmstrom as potential chips, plus prospects and picks.
From Ottawa’s perspective, if Pageau is the biggest piece coming back, then where exactly is he meant to fit on a depth chart that already includes Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris and Shane Pinto down the middle? Perhaps Stutzle or Norris — or even Pageau — could be shuffled to the wing, but that does not seem like the ideal scenario for a roster being built around its young talent.
Then again, if Ottawa is going for the ideal scenario, it has already lost.