Lou Lamoriello vows that Mathew Barzal will be re-signed, even if it means the Islanders’ president and general manager must match an offer sheet to the impending restricted free agent without arbitration rights.
Barzal, 22, is coming to the end of his three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal. Lamoriello, responding to an Islanders fan in a question-and-answer session conducted via Twitter and posted on the team’s website on Saturday, said he has every intention of re-signing Barzal as well as fellow RFAs Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews, both defensemen.
Pressed further on whether he would match an offer sheet for Barzal, Lamoriello responded that he would, but he added that it was the Islanders’ “intention to not allow it to get to that point.”
Before the NHL season was placed on pause in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islanders’ top-line center repeated in a private chat with Newsday that his No. 1 criteria for long-term happiness is playing for an organization that can sustain long-term success.
“One thing I want to do in this league is win,” Barzal said in St. Louis on Feb. 27 before a 3-2 overtime loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues. “Whether it’s this year or three years down the road. I just want to win it once.”
Perhaps Lamoriello already has made the first significant move in negotiating a new deal with Barzal, the slick-skating playmaker selected 16th overall in 2015. That’s one way to look at his acquisition of center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Senators at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 24 and promptly signing him to a six-year, $30 million extension.
Barzal said it was a “calming feeling” to see management not only acquire Pageau to fill a specific need but to immediately commit to him long-term.
“We’ve been at the top of the league for two years now,” he said. “We’ve been expecting someone just to make that extra little jump. It was nice to get that piece.”
Second-line center Brock Nelson is in the first season of a six-year, $36 million deal and identity-setting fourth-line center Casey Cizikas has one season remaining on a five-year, $16.75 million deal.
Lamoriello also re-signed Barzal’s linemates, Anders Lee (seven years, $49 million) and Jordan Eberle (five years, $27.5 million) last offseason.
All of which excites Barzal.
“We look at our roster when it’s written up on the board, it just looks a little deeper with Pag there,” he said. “It just looks like a contender, really. Having him for the next six years, having Brock, Leesy, Ebs, it’s a really good core that we’re forming right now.”
That circles back to Barzal’s desire to play for an organization that consistently wins.
“Having Pag and Nellie down the middle, you want to have a big, strong core,” Barzal said. “It seems like every winning team is really deep down the middle. Having those two locked in for a while now, and Zeeker with one more year and then we’ll see what happens with me, just knowing those two are locked in for a while, there’s some cornerpieces that we’ve got on this team already. It’s shaping up like it’s going to be a pretty good future.”
Lamoriello responded to a wide variety of topics during his team-conducted question-and-answer exchange on Saturday with Islanders fans.
For instance, he said he has “no preference” for what kind of playoff format the NHL ultimately settles upon if this season can restart.
He downplayed the suggestion that the Islanders could benefit from this pause because Cizikas and defenseman Johnny Boychuk, both of whom were sidelined after being cut by skate blades, will be available to return if play resumes.
“I don’t know if you can call it an advantage or not because other teams have injured players as well,” Lamoriello said.
He was also asked about his morning routine.
“Rise at 5 a.m., work out, shave, light breakfast and then off to work with a stop at Starbucks,” Lamoriello said. “Of course, this schedule varies when on the road.”
He added he prefers “fresh fruit and berries for breakfast rather than cereal.”
As for his favorite hobbies, the former high school math teacher who captained the baseball and hockey teams at Providence College and has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame listed “following the New York Yankees and reading when possible.”