After initial reports indicated that Oliver Wahlstrom hadn't signed his qualifying offer by the Saturday deadline, the New York Islanders announced on Monday that the team had agreed to terms with Wahlstrom on a one-year deal.
Financial terms were not immediately disclosed, but Kevin Kurz of The Athletic reported that he had, in fact, signed his qualifying offer after all. The Islanders either chose not to announce the signing until Monday, or the team elected to extend the qualifying offer deadline.
By accepting the qualifying offer, Wahlstrom's contract is $874,125 for next season. That's only around $100,000 more than the league minimum. Why would Wahlstrom agree to accept the qualifying offer and sign for so little?
The former 11th overall draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft (one pick before fellow Islander Noah Dobson), Wahlstrom undeniably has talent. He's a decent goalscorer with a dangerous shot, having scored at a 16-goal pace this season, which would have been 4th on the Islanders (tied with Kyle Palmieri, who makes $5 million).
It doesn't seem like he should be making so little, but there are actually some good reasons why both sides should be happy with this deal.
Wahlstrom's game has flaws, and they're not insignificant ones.
He can score but isn't a playmaker - he was on pace for 16 goals but just 21 assists for 37 total points last season. More importantly, he doesn't play much defense. When Wahlstrom was on the ice, the Islanders gave up 28 shots and 2.41 expected goals per 60 minutes - comparable numbers to Casey Cizikas and Hudson Fasching, but Wahlstrom spent almost all of his time in the offensive zone. Only 13% of Wahlstrom's 5v5 shifts began in the defensive zone, compared to 46% and 35% for Cizikas and Fashing.
Further, Wahlstrom was the most offensively deployed Islanders forward, beginning 55% of his shifts in the offensive zone. (The remaining 32% of shifts began in the defensive zone.) This 55% offensive deployment led the team ahead of Mat Barzal (52%), Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson (both 39%). Given his usage on par with Barzal, Lee, and Nelson, you'd expect him to score a lot more than 37 points, and it's concerning that he hasn't.
Also, he didn't actually score 37 points. I'm using his pace because he missed more than half the season with an injury, and there's no guarantee he can even return to his previous form. He tends to be a streaky player with long cold streaks, scoring 4 goals in the first 8 games of the season but then only 3 in his final 27. Ending the season on a cold streak plus an injury is definitely cause for concern.
Yet, this deal is also good for Wahlstrom. He has talent and seems to have a pretty safe roster spot (if healthy) with the departure of Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier and the potential retirement of Zach Parise. It's even possible that he'll be on a line with Mat Barzal, his most common linemate last season, and Bo Horvat. He will absolutely have a chance to produce this season.
When Wahlstrom's one-year contract expires, the salary cap will have increased by around $4 million, and he'll be eligible for salary arbitration. If he can score points this season, he could be in line for a large raise, and the Islanders will have the money to give him one.
It's also important to realize he didn't really have a choice.
He wasn't eligible for arbitration this year, and while he could have tried to negotiate a different contract, there wouldn't have been any reason for the Islanders to give him much more than the qualifying offer. Wahlstrom probably could have gotten closer to $1.5 million per year if he signed for three or four years, but given the uncertainty caused by his injury, he's decided to bet on himself this season, and I can't blame him.