There haven’t been many additions for the Islanders through this offseason molded by the COVID-19 pandemic and a flat $81.5 million salary cap. But with Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million cap hit coming off the books, the math is closer to working out.
President and general manager Lou Lamoriello still must re-sign restricted free agent Mathew Barzal and then fit his No. 1 center’s new deal under the cap ceiling.
Lamoriello’s task became easier — though the Islanders’ defense depth was further depleted — when Boychuk announced Nov. 25 that he no longer would be able to play because of the gruesome left eye injury he suffered on March 3 when cut by the skate blade of the Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen.
Boychuk has two seasons remaining on his seven-year, $42 million deal. If he were to formally retire — not likely because he would be walking away from the rest of the money owed to him — his $6 million cap hit would be removed. If the Islanders place him on long-term injured reserve — the most likely outcome — they will be able to use his $6 million cap hit even if it takes them over the ceiling.
Cap constraints forced Lamoriello to trade top-four defenseman Devon Toews to the Avalanche in October.
Still, whenever the Islanders take the ice — with the NHL now targeting mid-January but with growing uncertainty as to whether there will be a shortened season, given the stalemate between the league and the NHL Players’ Association on financial matters — they are on track to be almost a carbon copy of the team that lost the Eastern Conference finals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games in September.
That would make two straight stay-the-course offseasons for Lamoriello, who did pursue top unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin before last season before losing out to the Rangers. The continuity — intended or otherwise — paid dividends as the Islanders had their longest playoff run since 1993, though it’s questionable whether they would have qualified had the regular season not been cut short March 12 because of the pandemic.
The Islanders again must show the same crew can be a year better, not just a year older.
Highly touted Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin will replace free-agent departure Thomas Greiss in a goalie tandem with Semyon Varlamov. The departures of Toews and Boychuk will open a full-time spot for 2018 first-rounder Noah Dobson.
The team still is waiting to announce deals with its own unrestricted free agents, Matt Martin and defenseman Andy Greene, as well as former Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who most likely will try to resurrect his career with Bridgeport in the AHL.
Re-signing top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock, a restricted free agent, to a cap-friendly two-year, $10 million deal was a necessity.
So is working out a new deal with Barzal, but without arbitration rights, he had limited options. Any fears of him receiving an RFA offer sheet from another team should have passed.
Industry expectation has long been that Barzal will sign a two- or three-year bridge deal with a cap hit of about $7 million.
The Islanders have approximately $77.6 million committed to 20 active players (12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies). Cap space also would be needed for additional depth at forward, most likely coming from any combination of prospects Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, Otto Koivula, Josh Ho-Sang and Simon Holmstrom or re-signing UFA Derick Brassard. Of course, the Islanders could keep fewer than the maximum 23 players.
Teams can exceed the cap ceiling by 10% during the offseason, but Lamoriello needs some additional financial cushion. Placing left wing Andrew Ladd on long-term injured reserve is a possibility. Ladd, whoplayed only four games for the Islanders last season after injuring both knees in 2018-19, has three seasons with a $5.5 million cap hit remaining on his deal.
Sending Ladd, Leo Komarov or defenseman Thomas Hickey to Bridgeport would save $1.075 million against each veteran’s cap hit.
Three fresh faces
Ilya Sorokin, G
Noah Dobson, D
Cory Schneider, G (Bridgeport)
Three for the road
Thomas Greiss, G
Devon Toews, D
Johnny Boychuk, D
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