The Islanders did not have a pick in the first round of the NHL Draft, conducted virtually on Tuesday night.
They do have perhaps this offseason’s top restricted free agent in Mathew Barzal. But both NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton, a former general manager and players’ agent, and NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire believe Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will be able to re-sign his top-line center without having to fend off an offer sheet from an opposing team.
"Do I think that someone is going to target Mathew Barzal?" Lawton said. "Absolutely I don’t. The Islanders have the cap space to defend him. In order to hit a number where they would even possibly consider not matching, you’re talking about giving up four first-round picks. I don’t know a lot of GMs that will do that."
The Islanders sent their first- and second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline on Feb. 24. Rounds 2-7 will be conducted on Wednesday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. The Islanders have the 28th pick in rounds 3-7, starting at No. 90 overall.
On Monday, the Islanders beat Wednesday’s deadline for qualifying offers to their RFAs, extending them to eight of nine players, excluding goalie Linus Soderstrom. Barzal and defensemen Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock, the latter two with arbitration rights, are the RFAs on the Islanders’ NHL roster.
Barzal, who had a base salary of $832,500 last season, and Toews ($750,000) had to be qualified at 105% of that figure. Pulock, whose base salary was $2.65 million last season, had to be qualified at 100%.
The salary cap for 2020-21 will remain flat at $81.5 million – Lawton said that might be the case for the next three seasons – and the Islanders have approximately $9 million in space.
The free agent market opens Friday at noon.
"In terms of Mat Barzal, the one thing I know about Lou Lamoriello is there’s always been a salary cap in Lou Lamoriello world," McGuire said as Lamoriello also ran the Devils from 1987-2015 – the NHL instituted the salary cap in 2005 – and was the Maple Leafs’ GM from 2015-18. "When he was running the Devils, nobody made more than Scott Stevens or Marty Brodeur or Scotty Niedermayer. There was an internal salary structure there.
"He identifies his core players," McGuire added. "Mathew Barzal is a core player. He knows in order to keep the team together, you’ve got to pay your best players."
Captain Anders Lee is currently the Islanders’ priciest cap hit at $7 million per season through 2026.
But Barzal will likely top that.
If another team extends an offer sheet to Barzal worth $10.9 million or more per season, the compensation to the Islanders would be four first-round picks.
"Whatever number they put on the board, it wouldn’t be that uncomfortable level of four, first-rounders and it would be to a level where the New York Islanders would say, ‘Eh, we’ll just pay him the money,’" Lawton said. "It’s a non-issue."