Mathew Barzal’s big payday on Saturday sets him up for an even bigger payday in three years, and the Islanders’ No. 1 center indicated that he hopes his next deal also will keep him on Long Island.
But that’s a contract negotiation for another day. For now, the restricted free agent agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal, an NHL source said, in time to rejoin his teammates for the fifth day of on-ice training camp work at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
Barzal said he would have considered more than a three-year bridge deal, but the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the negotiations. The Islanders and Barzal reportedly were trying to negotiate a longer-term deal in the six-year, $54 million range, but president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was unable to shed enough salary to make that type of deal possible.
"I love it here, so I would have had no problem signing a long-term deal," said Barzal, who again will be an RFA in 2023, albeit with arbitration rights that time around.
"But at the end of the day, the circumstances of this year are so different and so strange," Barzal added. "It’s unfortunate times, but I think both sides came to a deal that we were happy with. It’s what fits right now. We just turn the page and the next three years try to win a Stanley Cup."
The Islanders will open the regular season on Thursday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. There are no preseason games, so both Barzal and the organization felt the urgency to give him some practice time before the games began.
He was reunited with Anders Lee and right wing Jordan Eberle, scoring goals on each of his first two shifts in the four-on-four scrimmage, and was reinserted on the top power-play unit with his linemates and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson.
"I think Mat will be ready," coach Barry Trotz said. "He needs to continue to get touches. He was excited, the guys were excited for him and it was good to have him back."
Barzal, 23, the 16th overall pick in 2015, had 19 goals and 41 assists in 68 games last season, then added five goals and 12 assists in 22 postseason games. He burst into the NHL in 2017-18 with a career-high 22 goals and 63 assists, tying the organization’s rookie record first set by Bryan Trottier.
Lee said it was the "same Barzy" on the ice on Saturday, including the increased chatter.
"He is a special guy, a special player," Lee said. "He’s the cornerstone of our team a little bit here, so his play dictates a lot for us. He’s one of those guys that can really change the game on a dime."
Barzal’s new deal brings the Islanders’ salary-cap hit to $84.6 million, above the flat $81.5 ceiling. That figure does not include new deals for unrestricted free agents Andy Greene, Matt Martin and goalie Cory Schneider, which have yet to be officially announced though all three players are in the Islanders’ training camp.
However, teams can exceed the ceiling by 10% during the offseason. The Islanders also will be able to exceed the ceiling by $6 million once they place defenseman Johnny Boychuk, unable to continue his career because of an eye injury, on long-term injured reserve.
Barzal said he skated with Boychuk, unsigned unrestricted free agent Tom Kuhnhackl and former Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg while he waited for his new deal to be concluded.
"There was never any frustration," Barzal said. "I love the game and I was anxious. I wanted to go with the boys. I saw them having fun the last four or five days. I wanted to be a part of that."
Barzal also dispelled any suggestion that he was not happy playing for the Islanders.
"Absolutely not," he said. "The whole negotiation with my agent and Lou was totally respectable on both sides. I think it’s pretty clear that I love it on the Island. So the thought that I maybe wanted to go somewhere else, I don’t even think anyone is really thinking that."