The Islanders lost a productive member of last year's playoff team on the first day of NHL free agency.
Valtteri Filppula, the team's third-line center, has left the Island to return to the Detroit Red Wings.
Filppula signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Red Wings, coming back to the city that drafted him. Filppula played eight years in Detroit and won a Stanley Cup in his first stint with the team.
Filppula enjoyed a bounce-back year for the Islanders last season, scoring 17 goals, his highest total since 2014, and playing crucial penalty kill minutes. He was one of head coach Barry Trotz's most trustworthy faceoff men, and also enjoyed an unexpected knack for highlight-reel and overtime-winning goals. His teammates embraced his high hockey IQ.
The Islanders are pressed for cap space, and face a difficult task in trying to keep Anders Lee and Robin Lehner, both of whom are now available on the open market and may have priced themselves out of the Island. Allotting money to re-sign those crucial players (or to find replacements) made Filppula expendable.
Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas are the club's top three centers, but they will need to find another unless Tanner Fritz or a prospect can take the final spot. The team would also like to find a two-way forward that can replace some of Filppula's defensive minutes.
Free agent target Artemi Panarin is a Ranger, Lee and Lehner's futures are still in the air, and now Filppula is gone. The NHL free agency frenzy is moving fast, so the Islanders need to hurry up before they lose more contributors from last year's team.