Here’s something that can’t yet be said about the Islanders under Lou Lamoriello: They’ll go into the summer with relative freedom to work under a salary cap.
After four years of maneuvering to stay under the hood, being forced into ill-fated deals (hello, Devon Toews) and fumbling so badly during free agency last summer that they dropped the whole affair, there’s finally a payoff.
Islanders flexibility in trade deadline It has been noticed In that space again and again, and it increased on Wednesday when Nikita Suchnikov was sent to the AHL (more on that below). This relates to their resilience in the coming summer.
There was a temptation to write this week about the impending free agency of Scott Mayfield, who is in the midst of a proverbial contract year, He proves to be worth more than $1.45 million and is signed to the third husband. But if Mayfield – a Career Islander who bought a home on the island a few years ago – wants to stay and if the Islanders want to keep him, there isn’t much questioning a deal under the salary cap can be done.
Of course, there are no promises at this point, just signs (which are, for what they’re worth, positive), as is restricted free agent Oliver Wahlstrom. In the grand scheme though, the islanders are finally in a position of strength in regards to cover.
It’s not just because the Islands currently have a hair over $4.5 million in the space after waiving Soshnikov. Semyon Varlamov will also have $5 million off the books after this season, and although it is possible the Islands could try to re-sign him, the reality is that Ilya Sorokin deserved two-thirds of starts and playing at a winning level should continue to be considered for the Vezina Cup. Whether it’s Varlamov or not, the Islanders won’t be paying $5 million for a backup goaltender next season.
Adding to the sunny outlook is commissioner Gary Bateman’s optimism about the salary cap jumping more than $4 million next season, bringing an early end to the fixed-cap cap era. That’s not guaranteed, and Bettman said in October that he would “close” to paying off the players’ debts of nearly $1 billion to the owners for revenue losses related to the pandemic, allowing the ceiling to jump. But even if that doesn’t happen, the planned $1 million increase to $83.5 million is nothing.
There are still a lot of unknowns between now and July 1, and what is or isn’t done at the trade deadline will have a huge impact on this discussion. But for now, the Islanders will have the cash out next season to do what they couldn’t do this time: compete for any advanced free agent they want.
Johnny be booed
When the Blue Jackets visited UBS Arena this past weekend, and Islanders fans booed Johnny Goudreau every time he touched the puck, I felt at least a little misled. As much as the Islanders wanted Gaudreau, they needed to shell out the salary to make a competitive bid for the super winger, who eventually signed a seven-year, $68.25 million ($9.75 million AAV) deal. with Columbus.
“I was talking to my coach after the third shift, and I was like, ‘I don’t understand,’” Goudreau told ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan of the fan reaction. [the Islanders] Once throughout the entire free agency.”
Aside from the admirable phrasing of Gaudreau, who fails to mention the conversations others have had on his behalf, the islanders, as already mentioned, hampered last summer in their ability to put on an offer. Had Gaudreau wished to go to Long Island, Lamoriello could have known. But it is not without a position of vulnerability and it is possible to part with many assets as a result.
There’s no equivalent for Gaudreau to hitting unrestricted free agency after this season — the notable players who will be on hand for long-term deals are David Pastrnak, Bo Horvat, and Dylan Larkin, and it looks like he could stay with the Bruins, Canucks, and Red Wings, respectively. This is not meant to associate the islanders with any of the three, or for that matter with any particular player.
This means that when they go into next season looking to upgrade their roster, they will do so from a position where it is clearly possible, rather than a position where every superstar would be a pipe dream.
The interesting thing about the team’s decision to send Soshnikov in is that the Islanders didn’t particularly need the extra cap space they would get with him in Bridgeport. Not that it hurts to get an extra $750,000 in books – Per CapFriendly Drop, the islands will have approximately $16.1 million in space at the March 3 trade deadline as they do today. But they already have enough room to run who Lamoriello envisions.
Moreover, no similar move has been announced, although quarterback Ruslan Ishakhov opened some eyes in AHL Bridgeport with 14 points in 12 games. It adds another promising call-up candidate to a list that already includes Aato Rati, Willem Dufour, Simon Holmström up front and Samuel Bolduc on the blue line.
For now, though, that doesn’t seem like a way to free up space for someone. Looks like Len Lambert saw enough of Ross Johnston in Ottawa on Monday to carry him as the only extra skater for the rest of the ride. Soshnikov will at least get some playing time in Bridgeport instead of sitting in press boxes for the next few games.
Play catch-up with numbers
When do we know the islanders are “real”?
If your answer is that we already did, you won’t hear any arguments from this reporter. But keeping them playing for the next few weeks may cause public analytics models – which currently have a wide variance in the island’s population – to reflect this judgment on the odds for the final.
Last season, the Islanders’ 11-game losing streak through late November blew a hole in their playoff prospects and never recovered, though their moment in the standings looked possible. Right now, depending on your preferred model, the odds of them succeeding are up to 75 percent (FiveThirtyEight(or as low as 24.9 percent)MoneyPuck). There’s only so much time you can play at this level, though, before the numbers catch up, and the Islanders will probably have gotten to that point.
The field for the Eastern Conference playoffs this season won’t be as straightforward as it was last season, when we basically knew by Christmas who would be around. If the islanders kept up this pace, their fate might be clear by then.