Although it’s not July coming up, NHL Free Agency is set to kick off tomorrow, October 9th, with the changes due to COVID-19. The Islanders, fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they got eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup Champs, Tampa Bay Lightning, look to improve their team with limited cap space.
Lou Lamoriello will face his first big challenge as the Islanders GM – navigating the Islanders limited Salary Cap Situation, while getting a first line winger that can put the puck in the net. What extensions can we expect for the Islanders RFAs, and who can the Isles afford to pursue in Free Agency?
The Islanders have several important RFAs (restricted free agents) hitting the market on Friday, including superstar Mathew Barzal, and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. All 3 of these players – especially Mat Barzal – will command decent sized contracts. Here are my projections for these contracts.
Mat Barzal – The Islanders speedy first line center is looking for his first big pay day coming off of his ELC. For his first big NHL contract, I am projecting an 8 million AAV for 5 years. It has been rumored that the Lou doesn’t want to go higher than 7.5, and Barzal’s camp wants closer to 9 million. I think they will settle somewhere in the middle, around 8 million.
Ryan Pulock – Ryan Pulock’s 100 MPH slap shot is feared by forwards and goalies throughout the NHL, and Pulock is also solid defensively, so he deserves a good contract. In my opinion, with the current flat cap, he will sign a short term bridge deal worth 4 million a year for 1-2 years, and look to cash in when the cap ceiling rises in the coming seasons.
Devon Toews – Devon Toews has been a main stay since he first entered the Islanders’ lineup in December 2018. For the solid d-man, I’m projecting a 2.5 AAV for 3 years.
With these 3 contracts, the Islanders would be over the salary cap by 3.4 million dollars. How can the Islanders shed some salary to get back on the right side of 81.5 million?
There are numerous trades the Islanders could make, both to shed money and get some much needed scoring talent.
Patrik Laine – According to NHL rumors daily (NRD) the Islanders are one of three teams pursuing the Jets’ winger via trade. For the Islanders, a move for Laine would be a no-brainer. His shot is second to only Alexander Ovechkin, and that shot on Barzal’s wing would not only let Barzal take a step towards being a 100 point player, but could give Laine the potential for 50-60 goals a season. Here would be a projected deal:
This trade would fill needs for both clubs, as the Jets asking price is rumored to be a defenseman (Nick Leddy), a 2nd liner (Jordan Eberle), along with a 1st rounder and maybe a prospect. In making this deal, the Islanders shed around 4.5 million in salary money, while getting a superstar back. Laine on Barzal’s wing would be worth this King’s Ransom, as the duo could end up being one of the best in the NHL.
Although it would be less flashy of a move, the Islanders could also trade defenseman Nick Leddy for a 2nd or 1st rounder to shed his 5.5 AAV contract. That would free up enough cap for them to go for Mike Hoffman, Craig Smith or even Taylor Hall.