Unlike the last few seasons, the NY Islanders find themselves with salary cap space currently, and heading into the next off-season. For a change, it will give GM Lou Lamoriello some flexibility.
As of Saturday, October 29th the Islanders are $3.382 million under the salary cap. More cap space was opened up last week when the Philadelphia Flyers claimed 24-year-old forward Kieffer Bellows and his $1.2 Million cap hit off waivers.
In addition, the NHL announced that next year's (2023-24 season) salary cap ceiling could go up as much as $4 million. The increase, of course, is contingent on the NHL players paying the escrow debt in full by the end of the season.
Where the Isles currently are in terms of the cap and that potential increase for next year, the Isles for once might not be pushed against the cap ceiling come next summer.
Player Decisions and the Cap
Most of the Islanders' current roster is already under contract for the 2023-24 season with 18 players signed up. The only player that will see a cap increase next season will be Mathew Barzal when his new deal kicks in and his AAV will go from $7 million to $9.15 million.
The Isles will have one restricted free agent in Oliver Wahlstrom and five unrestricted free agents in Semyon Varlamov, Scott Mayfield, Zach Parise, Nikita Soshnikov, and Richard Panik. You can probably guess who definitely won't be back in that bunch.
With their 18 players signed for next season, the Isles sit at $72.175 million next summer. If the cap ceiling was to go up by the projected $4 million NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke of next season, that would give the Islanders about $15 million to spend.
Wahlstrom & Varly & Mayfield
The Islanders already checked off one task for next summer extending Barzal 10 months early. The three big decisions for the Isles heading into next season regarding the cap will involve Wahlstrom, Varlamov, and Mayfield who are all do for contracts. Depending on how the 2022-23 season goes, Wahlstrom being a first-time RFA could be due for a raise on his current 894K entry-level deal. If his AAV increases significantly, it means Wahlstrom, the 2018 1st-round pick, had a strong season this year. The question will be whether or not Lamoriello looks to lock up Wahlstrom long-term next summer or sign him to a bridge deal as he did with Noah Dobson this past summer.
Then there's the decision regarding Varlamov whose current four-year deal ends this season. As a pending free agent, it's fair to wonder if Varlamov will be an Islander by the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline if the Islanders find themselves out of playoff position at that point. Varly turns 35 next spring and at this point, it's become apparent the crease belongs to Ilya Sorokin in two out of every three games. If all goes well this season and Varly is a serviceable No.2, the Isles probably would probably like to have him back on a short-term deal at a reduced AAV to his current $5 million.
Mayfield could be the most interesting decision as a player who many have wondered if this would be his last season with the Islanders. It wasn't because of how the organization felt about him but due to the constant battle with the salary cap. Mayfield is in the last year of his five-year deal that has an AAV of $1.45 million (one of Garth Snow's better moves). On the open market, it's fair to think Mayfield would land close to the Nick Leddy (St. Louis Blues) and Erik Gudbranson (Columbus Blue Jackets) deals this past summer, which pay out a $4 million AAV.
Lately, there's been reports that the Islanders and Lamoriello could still be suitors for Arizona's Jakob Chychrun. If that were to materialize, it's hard to see how Mayfield would be brought back.
For arguments sake, signing Wahlstrom, Varlamov and Mayfield next summer could come in around $10 million in total. That would give the Isles a little over $5 million in cap space to work with. It could put them in a position to make a major addition if the right opportunity presented itself.
Following the 2023-24 season, the Isles will have even more cap space available as the Isles have four forward deals ending. Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin all became UFAs after the 2023-24 season. Their cap numbers add up to 12.4 million.
With the possibly cap projections soaring as high as Bettman believes they can, it gives the Islanders plenty of cap space to be a major player in some big name targets if all goes according to plan.