Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello did not sugarcoat the difference between what a player or organization wants and the financial realities of the NHL.
Re-signing impending unrestricted free agents Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri may be difficult even with mutual interest in both returning to the Islanders.
"This is a very special core group," Lamoriello said on Tuesday during his end-of-season conference call with the media. "We will do everything we can to keep, certainly, the core together. It will be impossible because of the expansion year and also because of free agency. And, also, some of our young players who we think might be ready for NHL time.
"So, these will be difficult decisions."
Cizikas, originally drafted by the Islanders in 2009 and a fan favorite as the identity-setting fourth-line center, is completing a five-year, $16.75 million deal. Palmieri, originally from Smithtown, was acquired from the Devils along with fellow impending UFA Travis Zajac for a package that included a first-round pick this year. He is completing a five-year, $23.25 million deal.
Defensemen Andy Greene and Braydon Coburn and third-string goalie Cory Schneider will also be UFAs.
Goalie Ilya Sorokin, defenseman Adam Pelech and forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle will be restricted free agents. Lamoriello said the RFAs will be re-signed and he does not anticipate a situation like last season when he was forced to trade RFA defenseman Devon Toews to the Avalanche for financial reasons.
"Devon certainly was not something we wanted to do," Lamoriello said. "But we have no intention of allowing the restricted free agents to not be signed."
What flexibility Lamoriello has under the flat, $81.5 million salary cap will depend on what moves he can make. CapFriendly.com projects the Islanders to currently have approximately $5.8 million in cap space with 17 players signed.
The expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken is July 21 and Lamoriello could dangle top-line right wing Jordan Eberle or defenseman Nick Leddy, both who have $5.5 million cap hits.
Andrew Ladd, who played just one game for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport this season, has two seasons remaining on his seven-year, $38.5 million deal. Placing him on long-term injured reserve would be a convenient way to free cap space.
"Andrew Ladd is healthy today," Lamoriello said. "He was skating with us but he was not part of the main team in the playoffs. What his future is, I cannot answer. But he is under contract."
Without freeing cap space, it’s hard to see how Palmieri and, quite possibly Cizikas, can remain.
"There’s no question what Casey Cizikas has brought to the team," Lamoriello said. "We will do everything we possibly can to try and have him come back. We will continue to talk with him. He has expressed his desire to come back. But we also know that when you get into free agency that’s the time for the player to make whatever the best decision is for him, his family and his future. We respect that. But we will do everything we can to retain Casey if we possibly can."
Lamoriello said the same of Palmieri.
"Would we like to have Kyle Palmieri back? The answer is yes," Lamoriello said. "I have had a conversation with Kyle and I have asked him if he would want to come back if there was something that potentially could be worked out and his answer was yes. He also knows our set of circumstances with reference to our cap and our roster. We, potentially, cannot keep every player because we can only protect so many."