Islanders Miss Out on DeBrincat: Now What?

The Hockey Writers

Alex DeBrincat has been traded to the Detroit Red Wings. The blockbuster deal puts an end to the offseason drama with the Ottawa Senators involving one of their best players and caps off the biggest move of the summer. The Red Wings sent multiple pieces to the Senators for DeBrincat, but the trade is worthwhile since they’ve acquired arguably the top player available in the offseason.

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The New York Islanders came up short in the DeBrincat sweepstakes. They were the outside team looking in all along, but once again, they failed to add a star player in the offseason. Last year, they didn’t sign Johnny Gaudreau, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nazem Kadri, who signed a deal late in the summer with the Calgary Flames. This year, it’s DeBrincat, a player that general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello wanted to acquire, but he couldn’t put together a strong enough offer.

Related: What the Alex DeBrincat Trade Tells Us About Nylander’s Value

The failure to add DeBrincat doesn’t set the Islanders back, but it has significant implications. Moreover, the trade itself says a lot about the Senators, Red Wings, and the Islanders and what might happen for all three teams moving forward.

Islanders Never Had the Best Offer Available

The Islanders had the pieces to acquire DeBrincat. They could have moved a player like Jean-Gabriel Pageu and a draft selection in the first or second round. On top of that, Oliver Wahlstrom could have been thrown into the deal as a wild card. Wahlstrom, in particular, was the player that could have intrigued the Senators as a young forward with a high upside.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau New York Islanders
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, the Islanders were no match for the Red Wings, who had more players they could move for the big trade with the Senators. The Red Wings ended up sending forward Dominik Kubalik, defense prospect Donovan Sebrango, a conditional first-round pick in 2024, and a 2024 fourth-round pick. However, they could have also moved on from Jonathan Berggren or Robby Fabbri to convince the Senators to deal DeBrincat. The Islanders had a few good pieces, but they weren’t going to compete with the best offer on the table, and they didn’t at the end of the day.

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The return appears underwhelming for the Senators, but this deal was the best that they were going to do. This trade gives them a middle-six forward who can immediately help out a young and talented forward unit. In addition, Sebrango is a defenseman that can round out the blue line in a few years, while the draft picks can either help the team rebuild or allow them to make a big move at the 2024 trade deadline. The Senators are going to field a competitive team next year, and this trade sets them up for both immediate and long-term success.

Lamoriello Remains Quiet

Another offseason is wrapping up, and once again, the Islanders have put together a quiet one. Every summer, there’s talk that Lamoriello will make a splash and put together a blockbuster deal that can take a good roster and put it over the top. However, instead of making a move to go all in, he keeps the veteran-heavy, win-now roster intact, signaling confidence in the group.

The expectation for the Islanders at this point is for a quiet offseason, one with a few rumors but minimal action. However, once in a while, Lamoriello makes a move that convinces everyone otherwise that he’s not only willing to make a splash but eager to do so if it allows the Islanders to make a run at the Stanley Cup. At the 2020 trade deadline, that move was acquiring Pageau from the Senators. At the 2021 trade deadline, it was landing Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils. During the 2023 All-Star Break, he made the biggest move of his tenure with the team by acquiring Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. There’s no question that Lamoriello can make a big deal, but he’s only willing to do so when the best offer is available, and he won’t overpay for a star player.

Lou Lamoriello New York Islanders
Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The question is if this time, the lack of a big move sets the Islanders back or not. Without DeBrincat, they are bringing back the same roster from last year, a good one but not a great one. Last year, the Islanders proved they were good enough to make the playoffs behind great defense and elite goaltending. However, they aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, and in the First Round, they were exposed by the Carolina Hurricanes, who defeated them in six games in a one-sided series.

DeBrincat would have been that star player that could not only upgrade the offense but put the team over the top. With the Islanders missing out on him, they remain one elite player short of contending, and it’s unlikely Lamoriello will look to fill that void on the roster.

The Red Wings Needed DeBrincat More

The Islanders entered this offseason with the hopes of adding a star player to make a playoff-caliber roster a Cup-contending one. A move for Debrincat wasn’t a necessary one but one that would have set them up for a big season ahead and signaled that they are going all in on winning the Cup.

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The Red Wings entered this offseason with a different mindset. They are looking to get back to the playoffs and return to contention. The franchise with 11 Stanley Cup titles and 25 consecutive playoff appearances from the 1990-91 season until 2015-16 hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years. They have a roster worthy of returning to the playoffs but needed to make a move that could signal that they are ready to compete. More importantly, the Red Wings are looking to return to contention after multiple years of being near the bottom of the standings, and the DeBrincat addition allows them to once again compete with the best in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders feel left out with DeBrincat heading to the Red Wings. That said, the trade doesn’t make the offseason a failure. It’s disappointing without question but not a disaster, especially considering the other moves that Lamoriello made, specifically with the Sorokin extension, locking up the elite goaltender for the next eight years. The Islanders will be in the playoff conversation next year, but the question is whether they’ll be legitimate Cup contenders or not.

Senators Used Islanders Offer As Leverage

The Red Wings were the favorites to acquire DeBrincat from the moment he was put on the trade block. He grew up in Michigan and wanted to play for his hometown team. After that blockbuster deal, he signed a four-year contract for $7.875 million per year, and at 25 years old, he will play his prime years with the team he grew up rooting for.

However, there’s no question that the offer Lamoriello made forced Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman to up the ante on his trade proposal. The Islanders had an outside chance of acquiring DeBrincat, but it made the Red Wings to add some pieces to sweeten the deal. An ideal offer from the Red Wings would have been just Kubalik and a first-round selection, but the Islanders forced them to throw in a top prospect and another draft selection.

The Senators didn’t have a lot of leverage in the DeBrincat sweepstakes, but all GM Pierre Dorion needed was two teams interested in acquiring the star player. With the Islanders showing interest, the Senators found their two clubs and, as a result, managed to field a strong return in the deal.

What’s Next for the Islanders?

In all likelihood, there is no move from the Islanders. Lamoriello has proven he would rather remain quiet than active in the summer, and the upcoming weeks will likely reflect that. After re-signing the unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and extending Sorokin, the shift focuses on Wahlstrom, who is a restricted free agent (RFA) and has yet to sign a deal. Lamoriello will likely give him a short-term, team-friendly contract that allows the young skater to bet on himself in the next few years.

Oliver Wahlstrom New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While a quiet offseason is expected, there’s still room for a splash or even a minor move. The DeBrincat move showed that the Islanders, who might not have a lot of salary cap space, still have the room to make a big move if needed. Specifically, they have players that can be flipped for a star and the ability to open up cap space with a deal as well.

The shift turns to William Nylander, the star winger on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will be a UFA after next season. Like DeBrincat, Nylander will force the Islanders to put together a strong offer, but his presence in the lineup will make a blockbuster deal worthwhile. He’s a versatile skater who can make the offense one of the best in the NHL and make the Islanders one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders have been a letdown in the offseason so far. However, there’s still plenty of time for Lamoriello to make a big move that can provide optimism heading into the 2023-24 season.

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