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Facing salary cap, Islanders trade Devon Toews to Avalanche

Defenseman Noah Dobson "ready to take the next step," Lamoriello says

October 13, 2020 John Torenli
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After expressing his pleasure with last week’s NHL Draft, New York Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello went right back to work.

The reigning NHL General Manager of the Year and Hall of Fame executive made a pair of trades this week, including one he admittedly didn’t want to make.

“[The salary cap] certainly played a role, unfortunately,” Lamoriello ceded after swapping defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday for second-round picks in 2021 and 2022.

“The combination of a player going to arbitration was an unknown and being able to acquire assets, which we sort of used in previous trades, it was all inclusive,” he added.

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Toews’ filing for arbitration as a restricted free agent and the team’s need to remain below the league’s salary cap, which will come in at $81.5 million next season, forced Lamoriello’s hand in dealing off a player who amassed 46 points in 116 games with New York over the past two seasons.

The Isles’ sage GM knew he could afford to lose some talent along the blue line as former first-round pick Noah Dobson appears to be blooming into a regular on back line.

“We would not have made this move if the ice time that Devon received, we didn’t have the ability to put a player into that. Noah Dobson, we feel, is certainly ready to take the next step,” Lamoriello said.

And so are the Isles after reaching their first Eastern Conference finals since 1993 last month before bowing out in six scintillating games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The loss of Toews came one day after Lamoriello made another trade with Colorado, sending prospect Kyle Burroughs to the Avalanche for budding forward A.J. Greer, who had 32 points in 47 games in the American Hockey League last season.

Though Lamoriello could have waited out Toews’ arbitration hearing, the 26-year-old native of British Columbia instead sat down and worked out a mutual parting of the ways with the team that drafted him 108th overall in the 2014 draft.

“It takes two to make any transaction,” Lamoriello said. “Devon was the individual who was involved, that’s the best way to put it. Not that he was a player targeted.

“That would be disrespectful to him and what he’s done for us. I had a conversation with him and certainly it was a difficult conversation because he’s such a quality human being as well as a good hockey player.”

Isles team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello believes defenseman Noah Dobson is ready to take the ice time of recently traded blueliner Devon Toews. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Lamoriello believes the Isles picked up some good players during last week’s two-day virtual draft as well.

New York made five picks overall, none of which came in the first or second rounds due to a pair of key deals Lamoriello made at last year’s trade deadline for defenseman Andy Greene and forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

He took three wingers, a defenseman and a goaltender, each of whom stands over six feet tall.

Swedish winger Alexander Ljungkrantz, forward William Dufour, defenseman Matias Rajaniemi and Alex Jefferies all possess formidable height, but each must stand in the shadow of Finnish goalie Henrik Tikkanen, who tops the charts at 6-foot-8.

“I compliment our scouting staff at the job they did, not having a first- and second-round pick,” Lamoriello said.

“The objective going into the draft was no different than any other draft … Trying to get the best possible players available that will allow you to stockpile your assets … That’s exactly what transpired today.”

Just three days after taking Tikkanen, the Isles waved goodbye to veteran backup goalie Thomas Greiss, who signed a two-year, $6.2 million pact with the Detroit Red Wings.

Greiss, who combined with starter Semyon Varlamov to give New York one of the most consistent goaltending tandems in the league, went 16-9-4 this year with a 2.74 goals-against average.

Just to be safe, Lamoriello inked former New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider Monday as a potential backup to Varlamov this coming year.

But he is also hoping Varlamov can help fellow Russian and top goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin break into the league soon, making Greiss expendable on a roster that is shaping up as one of the most solid since the halcyon days of the 1980s when the Isles won four consecutive Stanley Cups.

A fifth title, which would be the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise’s first since 1983, could be looming on the horizon.

Especially with Lamoriello, a three-time championship GM in New Jersey, tirelessly working the phones this offseason.

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