The opening hours of the NHL free agent market were uneventful ones for the Islanders on Friday in terms of player transactions.
But they did not pass without news as it was disclosed Islanders’ prospect Kieffer Bellows had violated terms of the AHL/Professional Hockey Players’ Association performance enhancing substances program.
However, the 19th overall pick in 2016 will be available whenever the NHL or AHL, its top minor-league affiliate, are able to start their next seasons.
"All applicable discipline has been issued and satisfied," the AHL said in a statement. "There are no current or further limitations or restrictions on his ability to play."
Bellows, the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, had two goals and one assist in eight games for the Islanders and 22 goals and nine assists in 52 games for AHL-Bridgeport.
Bellows participated in the Islanders’ Phase 3 training camp in July after the NHL and AHL regular seasons were halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Bellows was not included on the Islanders’ expanded postseason roster.
"In response to the American Hockey League announcement regarding Kieffer Bellows, we will let their statement speak for itself and have no further comment," Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement.
Otherwise, Lamoriello did not address the media on Friday.
The Islanders have approximately $9 million available under a salary cap that will remain flat at $81.5 million because of the pandemic’s impact on NHL finances. Teams can exceed the salary cap by 10% in the offseason.
Top-line center Mathew Barzal, top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock and fellow blue-liner Devon Toews, the latter two with arbitration rights, are the team’s offseason priority as restricted free agents. Re-signing the three will likely cost more than what the Islanders have available under the cap.
Goalie Thomas Greiss, forwards Matt Martin, Derick Brassard and Tom Kuhnhackl and defenseman Andy Greene, a late-season acquisition from the Devils, are the Islanders’ unrestricted free agents.
In broad terms, Lamoriello has talked about wanting to re-sign his free agents and it’s believed he was in communication with all of his UFAs on Friday.
But it’s also believed Lamoriello is exploring ways to shed salary, quite possibly via trade, in a slow-developing free-agent market.
Moving defensemen Johnny Boychuk ($6 million salary cap hit) or Nick Leddy ($5.5 million) would certainly alleviate some of the cap crunch. The same is true of Semyon Varlamov ($5 million), though the goalie has a no-trade clause that allows him to submit a list of 16 teams.
But many other teams are also looking to shed salary.
Notes & quotes: Otto Koivula, 22, has been loaned to HIFK-Hockey AB in his native Finland. The center joins former first-rounders Simon Holmstrom and Oliver Wahlstrom, both currently playing in Sweden, as Islanders on loan in Europe…Goalie Christopher Gibson, who played 14 games for the Islanders since joining the organization in 2015, signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Lightning. He is expected to play for their AHL affiliate in Syracuse, New York.