The Islanders surprised many by re-signing winger Jordan Eberle last week to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. Although Eberle's numbers took a dip last season, he was important during the playoffs and fills an important void as a top-six winger.
Eberle took a slight pay cut to re-sign and has said that he enjoys playing on Long Island. Still, the deal came as a bit of a shocker to some fans, who are still waiting on clarity regarding the futures of captain Anders Lee and Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner.
Don't worry, Isles fans. There is likely still enough money to bring back Lee and Lehner. The team has $22 million in cap space, with only Lee, Lehner, a few depth pieces and restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle to sign. There should be enough room to at least sign Lee and Lehner and the RFAs.
Since Brock Nelson cost the Islanders $36 million over six years, it can be estimated that Lee will command at least a $7 million cap hit over a similar timeframe. There are 50 players in the NHL making over $7 million next year, and Lee is definitely of that caliber.
This is only a projection, but it would make sense if Lee and the Islanders settled somewhere around a seven-year, $50 million ($7.14 cap hit) deal. That figure is comparable to recent deals that similar wingers like James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty and Evander Kane signed (they all average $7 million cap hits).
That leaves the Islanders with $15 million left to spend. Re-signing Lehner is a necessity, and it presents a win-win for the team and player. Nine goalies in the league make more than $6 million a year, and Lehner has put himself in that class. This again is only speculation, but it would make sense if Lehner and the Isles agreed to a five-year, $32.5 million deal (give or take) that pays him around $6.5 million a year.
Beauvillier is another important piece that must be re-signed, and Dal Colle will probably also be retained. Let's project the two of them at around $3.5 million combined.
All of these moves would leave the Islanders with about $5 million in cap space and a projected roster that looks like this:
That looks pretty similar to last season's roster, doesn't it? That's not necessarily a bad thing, but where are the new pieces? Where's the improvement? In professional sports, stagnation usually means regression. If you're not adding, you're falling behind.
If the Isles are going to add significant pieces to their roster, they're going to need to shed some salary. They are said to be pursuing Jacob Trouba, which would overhaul their blue line but also cost several prospects and possibly an NHL piece like Nick Leddy to balance the salaries and make room. The Islanders could also look at trading a player like Thomas Hickey for another middle-six forward. Meanwhile, Andrew Ladd's contract sure looks like an albatross right now.
Now that the smoke has settled on the Eberle signing, it looks like the Isles will still have enough money to run back the team that exceeded all expectations last season. However, it will likely take a trade to acquire the outside pieces that will truly take this roster to the next level.
New York essentially decided to keep Eberle instead of bringing in an unfamiliar winger, and that's OK. Eberle has great chemistry with Mathew Barzal and put up nine points in eight playoff games this year.
In doing so, though, it used up most of the Islanders' free money that's not allotted to bringing back Lee, Lehner and the RFAs.
Only Lou Lamoriello knows the offseason plans. If the team wants to take the next step in its development, though, it will have to add to the roster. In order to do that, someone is going to have to be sent packing to make the necessary room.