Any major roster upgrades by the Islanders might have to come via trade rather than free agency.
They certainly are not alone in having limited funds to spend. That’s the reality of the lingeringCOVID-19 pandemic for most NHL effects of the teams. The salary-cap ceiling remained at $81.5 million from 2019-22 and has risen by just $1 million in each of the last two offseasons.
The NHL free-agent market opens Saturday at noon.
“This is a unique year and, for a lot of reasons, because of the cap,” Islanders president/general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “You also have to think of the year coming up after this year and the year coming up after that. We’re in this position because of what happened with assumptions, which is a real bad word, of where the cap would be. So the signings that we made three years ago — and I’m talking universal, everybody — we would not have done because in your planning, you also know what the progression will be and can be because of where the revenues are going.”
Lamoriello did create an extra $5 million of cap space on Thursday when he traded Josh Bailey, who played 1,057 games for the organization, and the final season of his six-year, $30 million deal to Chicago along with a second-round pick in 2026 for future considerations.
“So I think you’ll see more of that [trades] and individual organizations making decisions of where they’re at and how can the teams maybe acquire that and make it work within the cap,” Lamoriello said. “It’s a tough one.”
The Islanders have about $73.1 million allocated to 12 forwards, six defensemen and goalie Ilya Sorokin under the $83.5 million ceiling.
Restricted free agents Oliver Wahlstrom and goalie Jakub Skarek received qualifying offers by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline. RFA Bode Wilde, a defenseman, and forwards Blade Jenkins and Collin Adams were not tendered QOs and will become unrestricted free agents.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov, defenseman Scott Mayfield and forwards Zach Parise — who will turn 39 on July 28 and has yet to decide whether to play or retire — and Pierre Engvall are UFAs. Lamoriello has said he would like to sign them all, but it’s unclear whether there’s enough remaining cap space to do so. Parise said he would play for the Islanders or nobody and Mayfield and Varlamov have been adamant in their desire to remain with the team.
Mayfield, who will be 31 at the start of next season and coming off a super-team-friendly five-year, $7.25 million deal, could be offered in the $4 million range on the open market. That’s not likely to fit the Islanders’ plans. But if Mayfield departs, the Islanders likely will have to look outside the organization for a third-pair, righthanded shot.
Varlamov, 35, played only 23 games last season to complete a four-year, $20 million deal as Sorokin clearly became the team’s No. 1 goalie. Varlamov’s new deal likely will be in the $2.5 million range annually unless another team views him as a starter.
Engvall, 27, who had five goals and four assists in 18 games for the Islanders after being acquired from the Maple Leafs and a goal and an assist in six playoff games, has been noncommittal about returning to Long Island. “All I can say is I had a really good time here,” he said during the Islanders’ breakup day on May 1. “We’ll see where it ends up.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders extended their ECHL affiliation agreement with Worcester through 2026 . . . Defenseman Parker Wotherspoon will be a Group 6 UFA because, at 25, he has played in fewer than 80 NHL games in his six professional seasons.