When the Islanders handed a new five-year deal to Casey Cizikas this summer, it raised a lot of eyebrows around not only the fan base but the league itself. Sure, Cizikas was an integral part of the Isles' vaunted fourth line, but a $3.35 million AAV? That's a hefty price tag.
Fortunately for Garth Snow and the Isles organization, Cizikas had made it his mission to make that salary look like a bargain.
"I want to come out here and prove to everybody that for five years I'm going to give it all that I have," Cizikas told the Islanders' official team website. "I am going to leave it all out on the ice and do whatever it takes to help the team out. No matter what position I'm put in I'm going to try and exceed at that and be the best player at that role."
So far, so good. As the team site notes, Cizikas is the Isles' best center inside the faceoff circle (50.5 percent), and is playing a career-high, near-15 minutes of ice time through the Isles' first six games.
It stood to reason that Cizikas would feel like he had something to prove coming into this year. I think there were just as many people who believed the Cizikas extension was more about gaming next year's expansion draft than locking up a core player. And I'm sure Cizikas spent the summer hearing the murmurs that that line he centered wouldn't be the same without Matt Martin.
Plus, there was so much talk about replacing Frans Nielsen, but Cizikas' name never came up as a guy who could fill that role. Even though Casey is both a penalty killer and a center like Frans.
Two weeks into the season and Cizikas is one of the team's most reliable members of a PK unit that is tops in the league. He's producing offensively, laying his body on opponents in both ends of the ice, and elevating Nikolay Kulemin's game to probably the highest level it's been since he put on an Islanders sweater. Not too shabby.
Of course, we're dealing in small samples here, and the grind of an 82-game season are bound to humble players at some point. But in Cizikas, the Isles may have known there was something hiding there all along that many missed. That he was capable of upping his game when the expectations were raised. And if this is the new normal for Casey, that salary will indeed be considered one of the biggest bargains in the NHL.