This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the New York Islanders edged out the Blues and Lightning and will be featured first.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Islanders currently have 13 forwards, six defensemen and one goaltender under contract for next season at a price tag of $71,380,833. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $10,119,167 in cap space and three spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: As I've stated in previous additions of Cap Compliance, I'd hate to let an asset walk in free agency without recouping something in return. Unfortunately, the math will make it very difficult to retain Pulock, especially once you pay Devon Toews, who is coming off a strong 28-point season. Still, Pulock has racked up three straight 30-plus point campaigns and won't be easily replaced. A qualifying offer would be equal to a one-year, $2.65 million deal, so if they can get him signed for additional term, say three years, perhaps he'd be willing to accept a very modest pay increase to $2.75 AAV. That's probably about the max the Isles can offer him, so if the offensively-minded blueliner insists on more, it's simply not going to work out on Long Island. The reason the team needs the extra money is to get Barzal locked up. He's a top-line center who has racked up 207 points in just 234 NHL Games over the last three seasons. The club will be hard pressed to get him for anything less than the five-year, $27 million contract that Teuvo Teravainen signed back in January of 2019, especially considering Barzal likely would have pushed for a second 70-point season if not for the league shutdown. Now we get to Toews, who is arbitration eligible, which will make the negotiations a little more complicated. Still, while his numbers are solid, the team won't be able to do much more than a one-year deal. Perhaps by offering a one-way contract, New York can save some AAV, but at max the club can probably only offer him about $900,000.
Kyle Riley: Barzal is probably the best playmaker on the Islanders and a legitimate first-line centerman, so signing him to a long-term deal will be an absolute must for New York this offseason. Barzal and Sebastian Aho have put up similar point totals over the last three seasons, but Aho, who just signed a five-year deal with an AAV around $8.5 million last summer, is a far superior goal scorer, which always leads to a bigger payday in the NHL. Still, I think a five-year, $35 million deal would be fair for both sides. With limited cap space, the Islanders are going to have to make some tough decisions when it comes to their high-quality RFAs. In February general manager Lou Lamoriello expressed that he fully expected to re-sign all three of these players this offseason, but that was before it became clear that the NHL's salary cap would likely remain stagnant heading into 2020-21. With the deal I laid out above for Barzal already soaking up $7 million of the Isles' remaining $10.1 million in cap space, the team simply wouldn't have the cash to re-sign Pulock, who would likely command more than $5 million AAV on a long-term deal on the open market. He's a quality blueliner, so I think another club would be willing to give up a mid-round draft pick to pick up his negotiating rights this offseason, which is almost certainly the route New York will have to reluctantly take. That means re-signing Toews, who will be far cheaper than Pulock due to his limited experience, will be an absolute must for the Isles. Due to their lack of funds, I see New York signing Toews to a two-year bridge deal with an AAV just north of $2 million.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: There aren't a lot of roster spots or cap space available, so there just won't be away to get Greene under contract next season, even if he was willing to take a significant pay decrease. The 37-year-old was always going to be a playoff rental, regardless of the league being forced to shutdown. After paying Barzal, there isn't going to be a lot of room for extra forwards either, so it likely means Martin and Brassard will be looking for new homes as well. In the case of Kuhnhackl, he's the type of fringe lineup guy that you can keep around for relatively cheap and he does have his name etched into the Stanley Cup (twice). Keeping him around for a modest pay bump of $900,000 will add experience and depth toe a relatively young team. Whether to re-sign Greiss will likely be determined by whether or not the team can convince Ilya Sorokin to make the jump across the pond. If Sorokin can be persuaded to sign his entry-level deal, then there is little reason to keep Greiss around as the No. 2 beyond Semyon Varlamov. The best Greiss can likely hope for in terms of an offer is a one-year, $2.25 million deal that Jaroslav Halak signed. It's a depressed free-agent market and veteran guys are likely going to have to take pay cuts, especially if they want to stay on teams with a chance of winning.
Kyle Riley: There are a few players here that would be worth re-signing if New York wasn't in a cap crunch, but I simply don't see how the club can make it work with its severe lack of funds. All three forwards are bottom-six guys who the Isles should be able to replace from within, Greene was always expected to be a pure rental, and I fully expect Sorokin to make the jump to North America next year to replace Greiss. In other words, I don't see any of these UFAs re-signing with the Islanders.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: The biggest minor-league decisions facing the Islanders will actually be in net, outside of the aforementioned Ilya Sorokin. How that situation shakes out, along with whether to re-sign Greiss, will help determine whether to keep Linus Soderstrom, Jared Coreau and/or Christopher Gibson. As a restricted free agent, Soderstrum should be retained via a qualifying offer and then choose between the other two. Coreau put up the better numbers, 10-8-5 with a .914 save percentage, and should have the inside edge if this becomes an either/or situation.
Kyle Riley: The Islanders have to be thanking their lucky stars since they don't have any high-profile, minor-league guys to worry about re-signing this offseason, as they'll need several of them to step up next year in order to fill the holes left by the aforementioned departing UFAs.
AJ Scholz: The team is going to need to be creative to make things work ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. Currently, the Isles only have one pick in the first or second round in the next two drafts, so one way to bolster their selections would be to trade Pulock and let somebody else worry about how to pay him. I think the club is organizationally deep enough to make that work, especially with Toews and Noah Dobson looking to make more of an impact. In order to make the above contracts work, I had to do two things. First, carry just 22 players on the roster, which isn't ideal but its not the end of the world. Additionally, I needed to bury Scott Mayfield in the minors, which means he costs $375,000 against the salary cap compared to his full $1.45 million hit. Additionally, signing Sorokin would save them the money needed to let Greiss go which would help as well.
Kyle Riley: With the plan I outlined above, the Isles would be left with just over $1 million in cap space heading into the 2020-21 campaign, and that's not even counting the salary they'll need to put on the books for their backup netminder (Sorokin). In other words, New York will likely be heading into next season with a slightly downgraded roster and little-to-no cap space. I still think they'll be a playoff team, but in a brutal Metropolitan Division, a first round exit would hardly be surprising.