The New York Islanders have some decisions to make with their forward group. They have 17 players fighting for 14 slots so it’ll be up to Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello to decide who makes the cut and who doesn’t.
It won’t be an easy decision, but we may have been given a clue about something they won’t be doing. According to Elliotte Friedman, the Islanders haven’t been waiving Ross Johnston due to fear of losing him.
"Over the past couple of seasons, the Islanders avoided putting Ross Johnston on waivers. They know there’d be interest. It’s hard to say how their salary-cap picture will look until all contracts are revealed, but other clubs are keeping an eye out."
Before we talk about the candidates for who goes, we should talk about the cap implications first. Zdeno Chara, Michael Dal Colle, and Zach Parise are on the roster but we have no idea what their cap hit is.
Let’s assume for this, that it’s league minimum ($750,000) that would add $2.25 million to the Islanders cap for this year. As it stands right now according to CapFriendly, the Islanders have used $3.73 million in LTIR space. That would put the Islanders at $5.98 million (of an available $6 million due to Johnny Boychuk).
Now, you’d like to stay as close to that $6 million as you can in order to utilize the full potential of the LTIR space. Also, these numbers aren’t exactly perfect because it doesn’t include Kieffer Bellows (who CapFriendly has listed in the AHL). So realistically, add another $750,000 to the $5.98 million which gets you to $6.73 million.
The forwards who you could waive are Leo Komarov, Richard Panik, Ross Johnson, Oliver Wahlstrom, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows. If Matt Martin starts the year on IR, then this decision becomes a little easier but if and when he’s good to go you know he’s getting into the lineup.
Between everyone listed above the two that make the most sense to keep are Kieffer Bellows and Leo Komarov. Barry Trotz has implied that he’s looking for an extra player that can fill a top-six role and someone who can fill a bottom-six role.
Bellows is the obvious choice in the top-six role and as a former first-rounder, do you really want to risk sending him down to the AHL? As for the bottom six, Leo makes the most sense. Yes, the Islanders are putting me in a position where I’m arguing to keep Komarov on the roster.
Unlike Ross Johnston and Michael Dal Colle, Leo kills penalties and the Islanders staff has shown that they trust him in key roles. As a 13th or 14th forward, Leo is fine for that job and honestly, he’s a more versatile piece than Johnston.
I understand that some will point to Ross’ fighting ability, which makes him a popular choice, but when comparing Johnston and Leo, I’m sorry Leo gives you more. Here’s how the two compared (numbers according to Natural Stat Trick):
Leo Komarov: 47.53 CF% 52.61 xGF%, 60.0 HDCF%, 57.1 HDGF%
Ross Johnston: 39.89 CF%, 48.86 cGF%, 60 HDCF%, 0 HDGF%
Sure, sample size plays a role in this also but the Islanders don’t “need” a fighter. They have Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Zdeno Chara, Scott Mayfield, and countless others who have been known to get into a scrap or two.
If the Islanders waive Ross Johnston and someone picks him up so be it, I’m not rooting to lose him but based on the other choices available to waive, I don’t know why he specifically is untouchable in a lot of people’s minds.