MONTREAL — Here is the complete list of defensemen since 2013-14 to crack the 50-point barrier while averaging over 20 minutes a game in one of his first three NHL seasons, as Noah Dobson did last season: John Klingberg, Erik Gustafsson, Thomas Chabot, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Adam Fox.
That list, courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau, demonstrates a reality with which the Islanders must quickly come to terms: Dobson is on the fast track to being one of the league’s elite defensemen. And they might just need to pay him like one.
The 22-year-old native of Prince Edward Island will be a restricted free agent, open to an offer sheet that could detonate any of Lou Lamoriello’s well-laid plans, if the Islanders cannot come to terms on an extension before July 13. The Islanders have approximately $12 million in cap space, per Cap Friendly, and will need every bit of it to make repairs to a roster crying out for help on the blue line and on Mathew Barzal’s wing. But before they do any of that, they need to lock up Dobson.
“I don’t even think like that,” Lamoriello said Wednesday, when asked about the urgency of doing so. “It’s not even in my vocabulary, in other words. We’ll do whatever we can to get him signed whenever we can, but we’re not gonna be threatened by worrying about doing something because of an offer sheet. I’ve been in this too long to worry about that.”
Lamoriello’s poker face aside, the aforementioned list offers some idea of the expected salary range Dobson may fetch. As a restricted free agent (and one who has not won a Norris Trophy), it figures that Dobson wouldn’t get near, say, Fox’s $9.5 million AAV, barring an offer sheet that blows expectations out of the water. Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk, who missed inclusion due to the shortened 2019-20 season, might be a more apt comparison, having signed a four-year deal with $5.875 AAV that kicked in ahead of last season.
The numbers on Chabot’s current deal, signed following a breakout 2018-19 season in which he put up 55 points on 24:17 time on ice, represent something of a ceiling if the Islanders and Dobson want to make a long-term commitment to each other. A similar deal to that mega eight-year, $8 million AAV extension would cement half of the Islanders’ top six in place until 2029, when Adam Pelech’s deal expires, but likely force a top-heavy configuration for the duration.
More immediately, the worry will be finding Dobson a partner who can take some playmaking responsibility off his shoulders. Zdeno Chara was fantastic as a mentor to Dobson last season, but that particular skill is no longer in the 45-year-old’s toolbox.
“I think in a perfect world, if we could add an offensive defenseman, a defensive defenseman — that’s a perfect world,” Lamoriello said. “So what you do is you try and get as close to a perfect world as you can, but you also know you’ll never get there.”
In a flat-cap world, the reality will be quite far from perfect. No matter what number Dobson lands on, it will take a significant bite out of the $12 million Lamoriello currently has at his disposal.
If the Islanders have more up their sleeves then, it’s likely that moving some salary off their books will be a necessity. Lamoriello reiterated on Wednesday that he likes the core he has, but he hasn’t made much of a secret of his desire to make a deal should one present itself.
“It’s just like playing a perfect game,” he said. “I still haven’t seen one yet. But you strive to get there. You know what your needs are, you do the best job that you can to get there.”