So far, since the New York Islanders were eliminated in five games at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the NHL playoffs, we have presented to you the state of the team as they head into what could be a defining offseason. General manager Garth Snow has a number of large decisions looming with restricted, unrestricted and Bridgeport level free agents. Those columns can be found here:
In addition to dealing with his own assets, Snow is almost certainly going to be shopping among other team's player listings to see if he can improve this team in areas that are lacking. The restricted market doesn't play much of a role, as the process of signing another's contractual property to an offer sheet does not go over too well at the dessert table when the next GM meetings are held. In addition, the more expensive restricted free agents cost an arm and a leg in compensation should the team losing the player choose not to match.
So, let's play some couch general manager and try to look at what the Islanders salary cap situation could look like come July 1 when the free agent season officially opens, and, for the record, Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky assume majority control of the franchise.
If the salary cap does indeed increase, to Gary Bettman's projections, by three million dollars, it would place the upper limit at $74.400 million. The Islanders currently have $53.436 million allocated to player salary (per nhlnumbers.com), leaving them $20.964 million under the new proposed cap ceiling. Here is how their free agent situation could potentially play out:
Casey Cizikas - old cap hit $1.000, new cap hit $2.250
Shane Prince - old cap hit $0.700, new cap hit $0.800
Ryan Strome - old cap hit $1.713, new cap hit $1.713
Matt Martin - old cap hit $1.000, new cap hit $2.000
Frans Nielsen - old cap hit $2.750, new cap hit $4.250
J.F. Berube - old cap hit $0.563, new cap hit $0.600
Factor in Ryan Pulock's cap hit of $0.863 and that leaves the Islanders and Snow with $8.488 million to use in free agency but losing Kyle Okposo, Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait.
Further moves New York could make to position themselves as more prominent players in the market is to exercise a buyout of Mikhail Grabovski, which takes his current $5.000 million cap hit down to $1.833 million and trade Jaroslav Halak for a mid-round pick and roll the dice with Thomas Greiss and Berube, saving another $4.500 million. That would boost available spending power to $16.154 million.
With that being said, the obvious needs are a true top line player to assist captain John Tavares in this organizations ascension, two depth forwards and a depth defenseman. What's out there that fits what the Islanders are looking for, both in character and players that fit the system head coach Jack Capuano likes to play? Let's take a look as of May 24th. Of course, some of these players can sign with their original team from now until July 1, officially taking them off the market. Age presented first followed by dollar amount representing 2015-16 cap hit.
Steven Stamkos: 26 : $7.500 - The top prize on everyone's list. Will have many suitors and should be able to pick and choose his destination. The blood clot issue should not be a concern moving forward once he's off the blood thinners as it's not the recurrent type like what felled Pascal Dupuis. What a pair he and Tavares would make together and what a nightmare for opposing coaches when they play separately. If Isles maneuver even close to suggested above, the money is there for a huge offer.
David Backes: 32 : $4.500 - I have loved Backes his entire career and think he would be fantastic on the Isles as a third liner when (as I predict) Nielsen comes back. Lots of hard miles on his body and term could be the sticking point here. Will wear down quickly into mid-30s.
Loui Eriksson: 30 : $4.250 - Eriksson has always been somewhat undervalued for his production. Key here is how much you go for an excellent possession player who averages 24 goals per season in his NHL career. Coming off second 30 goal season in contract year.
David Perron: 28 : $3.812 - Perron is highly skilled but sometimes incredibly frustrating as consistency is huge issue. Had two 20 goal seasons in St. Louis and one in Edmonton. At 28, already has been with four teams. Can Tavares get most out of him if he accepts similar pay?
Milan Lucic: 28 : $3.250 - Big and bruising Lucic is, arguably, the second biggest free agent as of this writing. Loves Los Angeles and will give them first dibs. Outstanding in possession (55%) and averages 20 goals per season in his career. Oh, and 231 hits also. Would be the modern day Clark Gillies.
Jamie McGinn: 27 : $2.950 - McGinn could be a very valuable third line player who plays with an edge and has a nose for the net - the kind of guy who succeeds in the playoffs when games slow to a halt. Could be headed back to Buffalo, however, to continue mentoring Jack Eichel, who he grew close to before being dealt to Anaheim. Sabres have already expressed interest.
Andrew Ladd: 30 : $2.816 - Not many teams were willing to pony up for Ladd at the deadline in what turned out to be a very expensive rental. Smart of Snow to hold firm and take his chance now. Could be dynamic next to Tavares and brings tons of playoff experience on his resume. Would be much cheaper than Backes at similar production.
Jason Chimera: 37 : $2.000 - Potential replacement for Martin, should he leave, on a one year deal. Can still fly like the wind and kill penalties effectively. Coming up on 1,000 NHL games.
Mikkel Boedker: 26 : $3.750 - Slightly overvalued if you take a look at statistics but has never really had the chance to play with anyone as talented as he could with New York. Very durable (five games missed last five years) but certainly does not come without risk.
Troy Brouwer: 30 : $3.667 -Has averaged almost 17 minutes ATOI in career. Would be upgrade over Josh Bailey/Nikolay Kulemin on second line. Or you put him with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas to form an unmatchable unit.
Chris Stewart: 28 : $1.700 - Has not been able to get back on track since breaking out for 28 goals in Colorado back in 2009-10. Could be inexpensive role player however on bottom two units.
Kris Russell: 29 : $2.600 - A smallish defenseman (5'10) but is an expert shot blocker and has some offensive upside. Might play too many minutes to accept a diminished 5/6/7 role on the Islanders however.
Matt Bartkowski: 28 : $1.750 - Decent size (6'1), likes to play the body (384 hits last 191 games) and found his offensive game in third full NHL season (6-12-18 in 80 games) after moving from Boston to Vancouver. Also won't break the bank.
Another avenue for the Islanders would be the trade market, which is almost impossible to predict. Taking Travis Hamonic, who has now chosen to rescind his request to be moved and wishes to stay in Brooklyn, out of the discussions takes a huge asset away from what New York thought they would originally have as leverage. But with a stocked talent pool awaiting their chance at NHL stardom, Snow could choose that route and move younger talent for more experience in an already established player.