After losing a big part of its attack in Tavares this summer, New York is facing the prospect of that happening again with three of its top eight scorers being eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
The most notable among that group is Eberle, who was a nice addition to its forward group two years ago, and he hasn’t missed a beat since leaving Edmonton. He’s a consistent 20-goal scorer, and if he doesn’t sign an extension, he will be entering the market at the age of 29. While Eberle probably won’t be able to command a significant raise, a deal close to the maximum term isn’t entirely out of the question, especially if he can get close to the 60-point mark once again.
Lee followed up a surprising 34-goal 2016-17 campaign with a 40-goal performance last season, which makes his current deal one of the better bargains around the league. With goalscoring at a premium, he should easily be able to hit $6M or more on his next deal. Nelson isn’t a top center and may be better suited to be a high-end third pivot than a second-liner. But he is quite consistent in his production, which will help his case in free agency and should help him get a small raise on the deal he signed to avoid arbitration last month.
Kovar was one of the more intriguing signings in free agency. He’s coming off a quieter year in the KHL but has been a top point producer in the past, which gives the Islanders some upside. With no NHL background, it’s hard to forecast what his new deal may look like. They have some insurance in Filppula if Kovar struggles, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the team look to try to move the veteran Finn by the trade deadline. Although, they’ll have a no-move clause to contend with.
Kuhnhackl should battle for a fourth line spot after joining the team from Pittsburgh, and after getting non-tendered this summer, he’s not going to be commanding a big raise on his next deal.
Lehner is looking to rebound from a rough year in Buffalo. A solid showing even in a platoon role would help get him some multiyear offers in July, but if he continues to slide and fails to make a push for the number one job, he may be in tough to find another offer next summer. He’s under quite a bit of pressure heading into next season.
Two Years Remaining
Greiss is coming off a disastrous year, one that saw his GAA go up by over a full goal per game while losing 21 points off his save percentage. After looking like a bargain based on his 2016-17 campaign, his contract isn’t looking too good right now. He’ll get a chance to restore some value, but Lehner should push him for minutes.
Martin was added for a minimal return, and after spending most of the year on the bench in Toronto, he will be pushing to play a more regular role. Even if that happens, he won’t be landing close to this money on his next contract.
Pulock’s deal is somewhat back-loaded, which sets him up for a qualifying offer that’s a fair bit higher ($2.65M) than his current cap hit. If he continues to progress offensively, this deal has the potential to be a nice bargain over the next couple of years.
Three Years Remaining
Cizikas is a great fit as an energetic fourth-line center but gets exposed a bit more when he’s asked to take on a bigger role. Unfortunately for them, it’s hard to justify keeping him on the fourth line with the contract he has.
Pelech’s first full season in the NHL was a decent one, which makes his current deal look reasonable despite the risk the team took committing four years to him when he had only played 53 career NHL games. He will be one year away from UFA eligibility at the end of the deal, but lots can change between now and then.
Four or More Years Remaining
F Josh Bailey ($5M through 2023-24)Johnny Boychuk ($6M through 2021-22)Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5M through 2021-22)Thomas Hickey ($2.5M through 2021-22)Ross Johnston ($1M through 2021-22)Leo Komarov ($3M through 2021-22)Andrew Ladd ($5.5M through 2022-23)Nick Leddy ($5.5M through 2021-22)Scott Mayfield ($1.45M through 2022-23)
After being more of a secondary scorer for a while, Bailey emerged two years ago as a higher-end playmaker and built on that nicely last season, picking up 53 helpers in 76 games, which helped earn him a long-term extension. While he won’t have Tavares on his line, which could drop his production, the Islanders don’t need him to push for 70 points to get decent value out of the deal. If he can hover around 50 to 55, they’ll be alright. ‘
The same can’t be said for Ladd. His contract is among the worst values in the league now, especially considering he’ll be 38 when his deal comes to an end.
Like Cizikas, Clutterbuck is a great fit on a high-energy fourth line that doesn’t fare as well with other opportunities. However, with the contract he has, they have to try to find more than eight minutes a night for him. With all of that grit they already have, it was quite surprising to see them ink Komarov to a long-term deal. He’s capable of playing more minutes based on his time with Toronto, but they can realistically only benefit from having so many similar players in their lineup.
The four-year extension to Johnston, a veteran of all of 25 career NHL games, follows a similar mindset. Although, their decision to double-down (and then some) on grit and toughness is rather perplexing.
When Boychuk signed his current contract, he was in the midst of a career year offensively, but his output since then has only dropped — as have his games-played totals as he has struggled to stay healthy. He’s a top-four player when healthy, but if he can’t stay in the lineup now, how much worse could it get over the next four years?
Leddy’s minus-42 plus/minus rating was abysmal last year, but he’s still a legitimate top pairing player who’s locked up at a pretty good price for the long haul. Hickey’s new deal is quite reasonable for someone who could spend some time in the top four, while Mayfield is a third pairing player long-term. While five years is a long time to give that type of player, the cap hit is low enough to really mitigate that risk.
G Rick DiPietro (compliance buyout so no cap hit; payments of $1.5M to be made through 2028-29)
Retained Salary Transactions
Still to Sign
Best Value: Lee
(Excluding entry-level contracts)
The Islanders have plenty to wonder about as they enter the post-Tavares era while looking to get their new arena situation finalized. But with as many expiring contracts as they have, they should be operating well below the upper limit for the foreseeable future. If they want to lock Lee up long term, they should easily be able to do so from a financial standpoint while a long-term, big-money second contract for Barzal won’t impact their books too much over the long haul.
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