School is out and it's time for final grades here at Islanders Point Blank. Since June 1, SNY.tv's Brian Erni and I have been taking a look at each of the players and analyzing their 2015-16 performance, from the drop of the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in October to that 4-0 loss in Tampa that sent New York home amidst roster uncertainty. Contract details via nhlnumbers.com and stats courtesy of hockeyreference.com.
Casey Cizikas, 25, Center
Contract: Signed through 2020-21: $3.350M cap hit, $3.350 salary; unrestricted free agent
Season stats: 80 GP; 8 G, 22 A, 30 pts; 84 shots; 12:41 ATOI;48.6 CF%
Career stats: 290 GP; 29 G, 54 A, 83 pts; 310 shots; 12:26 ATOI; 47.7 CF%
The first Islander to sign a new contract this offseason off the unrestricted and restricted list was center Casey Cizikas, who inked a new five-year deal on June 2 worth $16.75 million. It was quite the reward for the gritty, fourth-liner from Toronto, who will be entering his sixth NHL season, all with New York since breaking in as a 20-year-old rookie in 2011-12.
Cizikas had offensive success in the OHL in Mississauga, scoring 88 goals in 237 games before making the jump to the professional ranks with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he scored another 25 in 83 games. But when he made the jump to the Islanders, he was inserted on the bottom unit and changed his game to be more of a gritty, pesky type of player. As a result, even though his point total suffered (29 goals in 290 NHL games), he has turned into one of the most valuable forwards on the team.
There is really nothing Cizikas can't do. He can chip in with the occasional big goal (4 of his 8 this year were game-winners), is a better-than-given-credi- for passer (career-high 22 assists in 2015-16), is one of the first penalty killers over the boards and can win faceoffs (50 percent career). He also hits (158) and throws some blocks into the mix (62). Healthwise, there is no concern as he has played 94 percent of all possible games over the last four seasons, missing only 19 of 294.
And this was all accomplished with just 12:41 in average ice time over the 2015-16 season (12:26 career). That could all be changing next season. Matt Martin is still very much a question mark to return to the fourth unit that was so successful alongside Cal Clutterbuck with Cizikas playing the pivot.
More important to Cizikas' future could be the status of Frans Nielsen, also an unrestricted free agent. While general manager Garth Snow and Nielsen's agent have had preliminary discussions on a new contract, there is still an average chance Frans doesn't return. And if he doesn't, the level of production Cizikas is capable of in his place could determine the feast or famine that is the Islanders offense.
If Nielsen doesn't return, Cizikas could be expected to fill in that production, especially if Snow fails in free agency to improve the Islanders at forward. That means a likely increase in minutes from Cizikas' current 12 to possibly 16 or even 17 and more responsibility on penalty kills. With those added minutes, it's very possible Cizikas can come up with an extra 10 goals and 10 assists, which would more than make up for the loss of Nielsen.
Of course, there's risk Cizikas can't find that offensive rhythm he enjoyed in juniors and the AHL, and while still being a very vital part of the core moving forward, is an overpriced third or fourth liner, adding the same 8-10 goals per season as in the past.
Everyone, especially Casey himself, is banking on option No. 1, whether Nielsen is back or not.
IPB grade: B-plus: Strong season earned Cizikas a raise. Whether it turns out to be an overzealous offer by Snow remains to be seen.