The immediate thoughts and focus are always on the next game. But Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield is not going to lie. He knows he’s in the last season of his contract and likely to receive a significant raise as an impending unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
“Guys will say they don’t think about it,” Mayfield told Newsday. “It’s always in your head. It’s your livelihood. It’s what you need to pay bills. At the same time, I try not to. My biggest thing is just going out there and playing.”
Mayfield, 30, a second-round pick in 2011, is in his fifth season as a constant among the Islanders top six defenseman. He has played in all 23 games this season as the Islanders faced the struggling Flyers on Saturday night at UBS Arena.
Typically a stay-at-home blue-liner who is at his best when playing a simple game, Mayfield entered Saturday’s game one shy of matching his career high of five goals, which he set in 67 games in 2019-20.
The 6-5, 220-pound Mayfield is in the final season of a prescient, five-year, $7.25 million deal — with an annual salary cap figure of $1.45 million — that then-general manager Garth Snow locked him up for midway through the 2017-18 season. That was Mayfield’s first full NHL season — he dressed for 47 games after making his NHL debut in on April 6, 2014.
He’s evolved into a steady, third-pair defenseman.
“He’s gifted with the size he has,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “He’s a really good athlete. He moves really well for his size. He’s rangy but he’s physical, too. He’s heavy. He’s a great defender. Great stick. Really great in front of the net. Over my three seasons here, I’ve just seen more and more confidence offensively.”
On the open market, Mayfield could garner around $3.5 million annually, maybe more, even though he’ll be 31 at the start of next season.
“I love it here,” Mayfield said. “My wife loves it here. The community is great. The team is great. The ownership is great. We love everything about the Islanders. It’s part of the business and now it’s all about just playing my game.
“It’s not something that’s really at the front of your mind,” Mayfield added about his likely pay raise. “You’re earning it. All I want to do is go out there and earn it. Every night. I think I have a chance to prove to management here, to the coaching staff here, to the players here and to players around the league that you belong.”
Mayfield’s chances of returning to the Islanders next season are contingent on a couple of factors. Primary is the Islanders’ salary cap situation. The Islanders have approximately $73 million in salary cap space committed next season with left wing Zach Parise and goalie Semyon Varlamov also slated to be UFAs. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in October next season’s ceiling could rise by about $4 million from this season’s $82.5 million. If that’s the case, the Islanders are in good shape. If the salary cap ceiling only rises by its original expected amount of $1 million, that might be a different scenario.
Secondly, the Islanders will have to consider what’s best for the long term given Mayfield’s age. Would they want to free that spot for a prospect? Samuel Bolduc, playing this season for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Robin Salo, a healthy scratch for the 19th straight game on Saturday and perhaps undrafted free agent Vincent Sevingy might be the top candidates. But all three are left-handed shooters while Mayfield is a right-hander.