New York Islanders: Stagnant salary cap will force trades

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders are going to have to make some trades if the salary cap doesn’t rise.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has done a number on the world. Sports leagues across the world were forced to shut down and only recently have they started to come back. However, the effect of the novel coronavirus will linger for a while in the NHL, and especially with the New York Islanders.

According to Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest, the salary cap is likely going to remain stagnant, which means it will be set at $81.5 million for next season. Obviously, this is going to hurt a number of teams. Namely those who are close to the salary cap ceiling. But the Islanders are going to be hit especially hard by it. They won’t be the team hit the hardest, but they’re certainly going to be among the teams who it hurts the most.

Whenever this offseason starts, the Islanders are going to be in a cap crunch. They must re-sign several of their key free agents and they’ll only have $10,119,167 to do it, according to CapFriendly.

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Star center and reigning All-Star Fastest Skater Competition champion Mathew Barzal will need a new contract, as he’ll be a restricted free agent for the first time in his young career. He’s going to rightfully want a substantial raise, even if he only gets a bridge deal.

Unless Barzal is willing to take a huge team discount, the Islanders are going to have to give him at least $7 million per season. If they want to sign him to a long-term deal, that number’s going to rise to about $9 million.

Next, the Islanders will have to give new contracts to defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. The former averaged the most 5v5 ice time per game of any Isles defenseman while the latter averaged the fourth-most. This is relevant because both defensemen are going to be able to argue they’re top-four defensemen and should be paid as such.

The Islanders will also likely have to add a backup goalie, though that will probably be prized goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin. However, they’d still probably like to add someone who could be an NHL backup in case Sorokin needs some time in the AHL. So that’s another contract to have to worry about.

General Manager Lou Lamoriello has never been good about managing the salary cap. Who remembers when he had to send Alexander Mogilny to the AHL to remain cap compliant? Or the time he gave Nikita Zaitsev a seven-year deal after just one season in the NHL? How about the time he gave Patrick Marleau a dreaded three-year deal?

But this is pretty bad, even for him. Lamoriello is probably regretting giving Jean Gabriel-Pageau his six-year, $5 million per year extension that he signed just after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

To make matters worse for the Islanders, they probably won’t have a compliance buyout as an option. If it was an option, the Isles could at least buy out someone like Andrew Ladd and not have it count against their salary cap. But without a compliance buyout, buying out Ladd wouldn’t save them that much. And Ladd has a no-trade clause, though his contract probably doesn’t even need one since nobody’s going to want to take on his contract.

Before accounting for Barzal’s inevitable big deal, the Islanders already have nine contracts with a cap hit of at least $5 million. Of those nine players, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy are the only ones who doesn’t have a no-trade clause. Johnny Boychuk has an NTC, though he can approve a trade to eight teams. Everyone else has a full no-trade clause.

Trade Candidates

Leo Komarov has a $3 million cap hit and can only reject a trade to seven teams. Those two factors could lead to him being traded to a team that is looking to get to the salary cap floor. Though getting rid of his $3 million cap hit would certainly help, it probably won’t be enough.

That means the Islanders could be forced to move either Bailey or Leddy. The latter is the most likely candidate for several reasons. First of all, Bailey still has four years left on his contract while Leddy has just two. Secondly, the Islanders could replace Leddy far more easily than they could replace Bailey.

If a team really wants to screw over the Islanders, they could try to sign Barzal to an offer sheet. I know offer sheets are about as common in the NHL as unicorns but bear with me. Last summer, the Montreal Canadiens try to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. Though it got matched, that might open up the flood gates a bit. Let’s say you’re the Colorado Avalanche and you have a ton of cap space burning a hole in your pocket. Why not try to add Barzal?

Of course, Barzal would have to be willing to sign that offer sheet. But if he does, the Islanders would find themselves in quite a pickle. They could go over the salary cap (up to 10%) to match the offer sheet. But then the Islanders would lose every ounce of leverage they had in the trade market. It’s hard to get a fair return for a player if everybody knows you have to get rid of them.

If I were an NHL general manager (and let’s be clear, I’m not one), the player I’d target for an offer sheet is Toews. He’s quickly emerging as an effective top-four defenseman and his possession stats are impressive. Moreover, Toews is elite at something – not taking penalties. Anytime you can add a player who’s elite at something, even if it’s at something fairly trivial, you’ve got to consider it.

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The Islanders are in for an interesting offseason. Lamoriello will have to make some tough choices. Islanders fans better hope he makes the right ones.