Islanders: Maneuvering Future Free Agency Periods

Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Saturday the New York Islanders and center Mathew Barzal agreed to terms on a three-year contract. With Barzal locked up for the near future, what must the franchise do in future free agency windows?

The New York Islanders and Mathew Barzal have come to terms on a three-year contract worth $21 million. With their most-important player signed, the organization will turn to finishing training camp and starting the season on the right foot. But what about future free agency periods? How should the organization traverse those?

Looking to the coming offseason, it’s not hard to see a scenario in which the Islanders remain in a difficult cap situation. Key pieces to the squad like Anthony Beauvillier, Casey Cizikas, Adam Pelech, and Ilya Sorokin are set to become free agents at the end of this season.

While three of those four players (Cizikas being the outlier) will be RFA’s, we’ve already seen the

Islanders and Lou Lamoriello move an RFA with NHL experience to accommodate the cap crunch

. So that is a bit worrisome, as those players have shown themselves to be impact players for the team.

Moving a Big Contract

The NHL’s salary cap is not likely to increase without fans being allowed back into arenas this season, and Wednesday saw 3,865 COVID-related deaths in the U.S. alone, a record number anywhere in the world during the pandemic.  So the chances that throngs of fans will be ushered back to arenas for hockey in 2021 are looking exceedingly unlikely. That will leave teams like the Islanders precariously close to the salary cap ceiling.

However, with the Seattle Kraken set to enter the league in 2021-22, the expansion draft may provide an opportunity for Lou to get out from under a bad contract or two.

Hypothetically, could Lou get Jordan Eberle to waive his modified no-trade clause so as to be picked up by Seattle? It would free up $5.5 million per season, get an NTC for an over-30 player off the books, and Lou could further entice the Kraken with a Colorado second-round pick, acquired in the Devon Toews trade.

And yeah, (hypothetically) trading Eberle would create a gap in the right side of the Islanders top forward line. But, could Oliver Wahlstrom, still with time on his entry-level contract and with another year of pro seasoning under his belt be (hypothetically) ready to take over that spot? Maybe.

It may not even have to be Eberle who goes. Keep in mind, Ilya Sorokin is ineligible to be selected by Seattle due to his limited NHL experience. Thus Semyon Varlamov could be the man bound for the Pacific Northwest if the Islanders feel confident in handing the reigns off to Sorokin by then.

2022-23 looks like the season that will begin to free up some cap space for the Islanders. That’s the year Leo Komarov, Cal Clutterbuck, Ross Johnston, Nick Leddy, and Thomas Hickey come off the Islanders books. All totaled up, that’s $15.500 million free from those five contracts, which also comes just in time to sign 28-year-old Ryan Pulock and 23-year-old Noah Dobson to new contract extensions, it’s also just a year shy of the end of Barzal’s deal.

A year later, Andrew Ladd and Varlamov come off the books as well. By then, we’re talking the summer of 2023, the NHL salary cap should’ve seen a tangible increase, freeing up a little extra wiggle room that can’t be forecasted in this article, for obvious reasons.

Everything in this article is, at risk of sounding like a broken record, hypothetical. All contract information was found on CapFriendly.

While cap trouble may loom in the distance, the Islanders team who challenged the eventual Stanley Cup champs in the Eastern Conference Finals remains mostly together. Hopefully, they can find a way to keep it like that, and maybe even add to it, going forward.