The NY Islanders' offseason from many points of view has been labeled as a major disappointment. While Lou Lamoriello stated he feels the opposite last week, others are in total disagreement.
Heading into this summer, many believed that Lamoriello would add a proven goal scorer such as Johnny Gaudreau via free agency or JT Miller via trade. That didn't happen and, in fact, other than Alexander Romanov, nothing happened. Mathew Barzal is due for a new contract next summer, however, if Lamoriello can seal that deal this month, that would take away a significant amount of sting in regards to how many feel about the lack of activity this offseason.
Over the last few months, one of the storylines in question has been whether or not the Islanders can sign Barzal to a long-term extension before the start of the season. Now that Barzal is in the last year of his deal, he's eligible to negotiate his next deal. Barzal's last contract was a bridge deal that took a little longer to get finalized than both sides would have liked, but the good news is it walks him into his age-26 season so he'll still be a restricted free agent. There's reason to believe a long-term marriage is in the future, but it should be noted that he's two summers away from becoming an unrestricted free agent if it goes that far.
The Islanders surely want their franchise players' contracts completed on a long-term basis as soon as possible, and even Barzal has gone as far as to say he wants to be an Islander for life:
"I would love to be here on the Island. This is home, this is where I want to be, this is where I want to win. I love my life here, love the city, the fans, our new rink is amazing. Love wearing the blue and orange. I would love to sign long-term here. I think it's such a cool thing when a player plays his whole career with one team. A lot of my favorite athletes have done that, so it’s obviously something I’d like to follow in as well."- Mathew Barzal
For all parties involved, it stung when John Tavares left the Isles to go home to Toronto to play for the Maple Leafs. While Tavares's situation is completely different from Barzal's, until his deal is done there will be some angst as to whether or not the deal will get done. The Islanders and Lamoriello can remove that angst and take away a significant amount of the off-season disappointment by signing Barzal to a long-term eight-year deal before opening night of the 2022-23 season.
Given that Barzal is only 25 years old, there's little question the Islanders want to lock Barzal up to a max contract, buying the prime years of his career. The negotiations will come down to his average annual value, and the structure of the contract.
The magic number could be an AAV of $9.5 million. Brayden Point not too long ago signed an eight-year extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning worth $76 million. That seems like a contract that would make Barzal and his camp happy.
If you compare Barzal's career numbers to Point's, they have a similar track record. One season in which they each scored above a point per game pace and the rest they average about somewhere in the high 50s to 60 point range. The leverage Point had in his negotiations, however, were back-to-back 14-goal postseasons that helped the Lightning claim the Stanley Cup. While Barzal didn't have a great year last year (59 Points, 15 Goals in 73 games) surely his camp will point to the fact the Isles play in a defensive system and Barzal has not had the luxury to play with big-time offensive players such as Point. So if he doesn't sign for a $9.5 million AAV, you could see it being a less, but a relatively close number.
No less, Barzal is the face of the franchise, the organization knows that and his agent knows that. In addition, Barzal's agent knows the Islanders cannot afford to lose Barzal in free agency and have another Tavares-like debacle on their hands. Something to keep in mind, the league recently has stated that they expect the salary cap ceiling to have a sizable raise after the 2023-24 season (at this point that is an estimate). That also happens to be the first year Barzal is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. Locking up Barzal now would almost certainly be beneficial, too, as when the salary cap increases, likely, so would Barzal's AAV if he has the opportunity to negotiate in two summers. Getting it done early could make his next contract look like a bargain.
Barzal has stated this is where he wants to be and yes, Tavares said the same thing but the situations couldn't be more different. Barzal, other than his rookie year, has accomplished quite a lot in terms of winning with the Islanders. While many can criticize Lamoriello since walking in the door regarding being unable to sign big free agents, he has developed a winning culture with the Islanders, something Tavares didn't experience.
The expectation should be that the Islanders to lock-up Barzal long-term. If the Islanders could do it this month, it would relieve the sting of the underwhelming, disappointing offseason, and could even contribute to landing future free agents if they know they have an all-world talent like Barzal to play with.