The New York Islanders season came to a painful end this past Friday night at UBS Arena when they lost 2-1 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes. Now it's time for the Islanders brass and fans to look towards next year, the 2023-24 season.
The Isles' off-season begins with breaking down their salary cap.
Isles State of the Cap
While no official announcement has been made the current estimate is the NHL cap ceiling will rise next season another million dollars or so. For the sake of analyzing the Isles's cap space for now this off-season let's assume an increase of $1 million to bring the cap ceiling to $83.5 million for the 2023-24 season (Next year's cap will rise at least $1 million).
Currently, this leaves the Isles with $6.9 million in cap space. However, buying out Josh Bailey seems like a very real possibility this off-season. Buying out Bailey (who only has 1-year left on his deal) would create an additional $2.67 million in cap space for the Isles, which would bring their total available cap space to a little over $9.5 million.
The Isles have several unrestricted free agents this summer. They are Pierre Engvall, Hudson Fasching, Scott Mayfield, Zach Parise, Semyon Varlamov, and Parker Wotherspoon. The key restricted free agents the blue and orange have are Oliver Wahlstrom and Samuel Bolduc.
If Parise does not retire, Lou Lamoriello and the Isles would love to have him back on a cap-friendly 1-year minimum deal. While Parise was kept off the score sheet in the playoffs he had another solid season for the Isles and is an excellent fit on J.G Pageau's line.
Fasching has shown he can be a reliable two-way bottom-six guy. There is currently an opening on Pageau's line (there would be 2 openings if Parise retires) and odds are a Fasching deal would be a 3-year contract with a cap hit between $1.3 - $1.5 million. It doesn't appear any of the Isles' top prospects will be ready for the NHL come opening night next season.
Wahlstrom just finished his entry-level contract and is now a restricted-free agent. Given that Wahlstrom only played 35 games this season (7 Goals & 16 Points) and has yet to put a strong season together, a bridge deal makes sense for both him and the Isles.
Getting contracts done for Parise, Wahlstrom, and Fasching would probably leave the Isles with a little under $6 million in cap space with 21 players signed. That would leave Mayfield's spot open along with who will be the backup goalie.
Mayfield & Varly
Again on the open market based on last season's unrestricted free-agent defenseman, Mayfield's market will be for at least four years along with a cap number a little below or above $4 million. At his end-of-season presser, new Nashville Predators GM Barry Trotz said "I want to add some size at key positions". Many NHL insiders have also speculated that the Buffalo Sabres could be in on Mayfield as well. Buffalo who just missed the playoffs will be looking to make the next step for the 2023-24 season. Despite a really good stepping-stone season, Buffalo finished 26th in the regular season with 3.62 Goals Against per Game.
Then the question comes up who will be the Isles' backup goalie next year? They will not be able to resign Varlamov at his $5 million cap number from this year, that's for sure. Varly who just turned 35 is willing to sign a 1-year deal for roughly $2 million could make sense for the Isles (although Varly could get better offers in free agency). Cory Schneider (also a UFA) is now 37 and at best an emergency NHL goalie and youngster Jakub Skarek doesn't appear ready for the NHL yet. Could a Thomas Greiss reunion (UFA this summer) be a possibility?
Signing both Mayfield and Varly for a little under $6 million would be a very tight squeeze if that's the Islanders' Plan A. If the Isles would pull all of that off that would mean not adding any free agents from the open market. Trades obviously would still be a possibility.
But the Islanders might want to move on from Mayfield. He does turn 31 at the beginning of next season and the Isles might want to use his cap towards another player. A defenseman who could greatly help the Isles' power play (zone entry & be less stagnant) comes to mind.
So unless there is a big surprise in terms of how much the cap will increase or if the Isles move a significant cap player under contract for next season, it's going to be a tight squeeze for the Isles' top brass.