Two-thirds of the Islanders’ identity-setting fourth line have been protected for the NHL’s expansion draft, and top-six forwards Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle will be exposed.
Perhaps that’s an indication that the fourth line’s third member, impending unrestricted free agent Casey Cizikas, will have a deal before the free-agent market opens on July 28.
The NHL on Sunday released each team’s protected list and which players will be available to the expansion Seattle Kraken on Wednesday.
The Islanders protected seven forwards — fourth-liners Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin along with Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau — defensemen Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock and goalie Semyon Varlamov.
In addition to Bailey and Eberle, forwards Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Otto Koivula, Leo Komarov and newly acquired Richard Panik and defensemen Sebastian Aho, Andy Greene and Thomas Hickey are among the prominent players available to be selected.
Seattle will choose one player apiece from 30 teams, with Vegas, the most recent expansion team, exempt from the draft.
Dangling Bailey and Eberle was a financial decision for Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, whose team has approximately $12.2 million in space under the flat $81.5 million salary cap.
Re-signing Beauvillier, Pelech and goalie Ilya Sorokin, the key restricted free agents, is Lamoriello’s priority. Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri are the Islanders’ top UFAs.
Palmieri, acquired from the Devils on April 7 along with fellow UFA Travis Zajac for a first-round pick in this weekend’s NHL entry draft, is coming off a five-year, $23.5 million deal. Cizikas, who made his debut for the Islanders in 2012, is completing a five-year, $16.75 million deal.
Lamoriello shed $11 million in cap charges the previous two days. He traded Nick Leddy and his $5.5 million cap hit to the Red Wings on Friday in a deal that brought back Panik. On Saturday, Lamoriello shipped Andrew Ladd, who has two seasons remaining on his seven-year, $38.5 million deal, to the Coyotes along with two second-round picks and a conditional third-round pick for no return other than the resulting cap space.
Eberle has three seasons remaining on a five-year, $27.5 million deal after recording four goals and seven assists in 19 playoff games. The Islanders lost to the two-time Stanley Cup champion Lightning, 1-0, in Game 7 of their NHL semifinal series.
Bailey has three seasons remaining on a six-year, $30 million deal. He is the longest-tenured Islander, with 162 goals and 349 assists in 919 regular-season games since 2008.
Impending UFAs and RFAs were included among the unprotected players, so the Islanders’ full list also includes forwards Cizikas, Palmieri, Zajac, Cole Bardreau, Kieffer Bellows, Austin Czarnik, Tanner Fritz, Josh Ho-Sang and Dmytro Timashov, defensemen Braydon Coburn, Mitch Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon and goalies Ken Appleby and Cory Schneider.