The Islanders have cap space to pursue 2023 NHL free agents

The Islanders have cap space to pursue 2023 NHL free agents

Here’s something that couldn’t be said until now about the Islanders under Lou Lamoriello: They’ll enter the summer with relative freedom to operate under the salary cap.

After four years of maneuvering to stay under the cap, being forced into unfortunate deals (hello, Devon Toews), and being so hamstrung during free agency last summer that they essentially threw away the entire ‘matter, finally there is a reward.

The flexibility of the islanders in the commercial term it has been noted in that space repeatedly, and it increased Wednesday when Nikita Soshnikov was sent down to the AHL (more on that below). It’s about your flexibility for next summer.

It was tempting to write this week about the impending free agency of Scott Mayfield, who is in the midst of a proverbial contract year, proving worth more than $1.45 million and a spot in the third pair. But if Mayfield, a career Islander who bought a house on The Island a few years ago, wants to stay and the Islanders want to keep him, there’s little doubt a salary-cap deal can be done.

The Islanders have cap space to pursue 2023 NHL free agents
Scott Mayfield is playing well enough to earn a significant raise in free agency, and the Islanders will have the salary cap space to give him one.
NHLI via Getty Images

Of course, there are no promises at this stage, just signs (which are, for what they’re worth) positive, as there are for restricted free agent Oliver Wahlstrom. In the grand scheme of things, though, the Islanders are finally in a position of strength when it comes to the cap.

That’s not just because the Isles currently have a hair over $4.5 million in cap space after waiving Soshnikov. Semyon Varlamov’s $5 million will also come off the books after this season, and while the Isles may try to re-sign him, the reality is that Ilya Sorokin has deservedly taken two-thirds of the starts and played at a level that will allow him to win. he Vezina Trophy consideration if he continues. Whether it’s Varlamov or not, the Islanders won’t be paying their backup goaltender $5 million next season.

Adding to the sunny outlook is the optimism projected by commissioner Gary Bettman about the salary cap jump of more than $4 million next season, ending the era of flat cap early. That’s not guaranteed, and Bettman said in October that it “will be close” to whether players pay off the roughly $1 billion owed to owners due to pandemic-related revenue losses, allowing let the limit jump. But even if he doesn’t, the scheduled increase from $1 million to $83.5 million is nothing.

There are still a lot of unknowns between now and July 1, and what is done or not done at the trade deadline will have a major impact on this discussion. But as things stand right now, the Islanders will have the money next offseason to do what they couldn’t this time: compete for any high-end free agent they want.

Johnny get booed

Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders defends the net against Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets at UBS Arena on November 12, 2022 in Elmont, New York.
Johnny Gaudreau was perplexed by the less-than-friendly reception he received from Islanders fans, many of whom likely hoped he would have signed with the club over the summer.
NHLI via Getty Images

When the Blue Jackets visited UBS Arena last weekend and Islanders fans booed Johnny Gaudreau every time he touched the puck, it felt at least a little wrong. As much as the Islanders would have liked to get Gaudreau, they would have to come down in salary to make a competitive offer for the superstar winger, who eventually signed a seven-year, $68.25 million ($9.75 million AAV dollars). with Columbus.

“I was talking to my coach after the third inning, and I said, ‘I don’t understand,'” Gaudreau told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan about the fan reaction. “I didn’t talk to [the Islanders] once for all of free agency.”

Gaudreau’s witty phrasing aside, which made no mention of the talks others were having on his behalf, the Islanders, as noted above, were hampered last summer in their ability to make a offer If Gaudreau had wanted to go to Long Island, Lamoriello could have found out. But not without dealing from a position of weakness and likely parting with many assets as a result.

There’s no equivalent to Gaudreau in unrestricted free agency after this season — the highest-profile players who would be ripe for long-term deals are David Pastrnak, Bo Horvat and Dylan Larkin, and they seem likely to stick around with the Bruins, Canucks and Red Wings, respectively. It is not about linking the Islanders with any of the three, nor with any particular player.

It means that as they enter the upcoming offseason looking to improve their roster, they’ll be doing so from a position where that’s clearly possible, rather than one where every superstar is a pipe dream.

As for Soshnikov

Jacob Trouba #8 of the New York Rangers and Nikita Soshnikov #41 of the New York Islanders battle for position during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 8, 2022 in New York City.
The Islanders’ decision to send Nikita Soshnikov to the AHL will put another $750,000 under the salary cap.
Getty Images

The interesting thing about the team’s decision to ship Soshnikov is that the Islanders didn’t particularly need the extra cap space they’ll have with him in Bridgeport. Not that it hurts to get an extra $750,000 off the books, by CapFriendly screening, the Isles will have roughly $16.1 million in cap space at the March 3 trade deadline as things stand today. But they already had enough room to run whoever Lamoriello likes.

Also, no corresponding move was announced, although center Ruslan Iskhahov has opened some eyes in AHL Bridgeport with 14 points in 12 games. This adds another promising candidate to a roster that already includes Aatu Räty, William Dufour and Simon Holmstrom up front and Samuel Bolduc on the blue line.

Right now, though, that doesn’t seem like a way to clear a space for one of them. It looks like Lane Lambert saw enough of Ross Johnston in Ottawa on Monday to bring him as the only extra skater for the rest of the trip. Soshnikov will at least get some playing time in Bridgeport instead of sitting in the press rooms for the next few games.

Playing catch up with the numbers

New York Islanders Brock Nelson (29) celebrates after his empty net goal with teammates Cal Clutterbuck (15) and Casey Cizikas (53) during third period action in NHL hockey against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, November.  14, 2022.
As the Islanders have been making their way into the early playoffs, not all statistical models are bullish on their postseason chances … yet.

When will we know that the islanders are “for real”?

If your answer is that we already do, you will not hear any arguments from this reporter. But sustaining his play over the next few weeks could cause public analytics models, which currently have wide variance on the Islanders, to reflect that verdict on their playoff odds.

Last season, the Islanders’ 11-game losing streak through late November sent their playoff odds into a tailspin and they never recovered, though they had moments when a return to the playoffs looked doable. Right now, depending on your preferred model, their odds are as high as 75 percent (FiveThirtyVit) or as low as 24.9 percent (MoneyPuck). However, there’s only so long you can play at this level, before the numbers add up, and the Islanders are likely to reach that point.

This season’s Eastern Conference playoff field won’t be as straightforward as it was last season, when we basically knew by Christmas who was going to make it. However, if the Islanders keep up this pace, their own fate could be evident by then.

#Islanders #cap #space #pursue #NHL #free #agents

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