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Lack of cap space could result in another quiet offseason for Islanders

May 13, 2024, 12:23 AM ET [79 Comments]
Ben Shelley
New York Islanders Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

With a second straight first round exit, this year’s postseason highlighted the New York Islanders’ current position: while they may be good enough to make the playoffs, they’re not at a level to truly contend.

I expanded on this in last week’s article, which can be viewed below.

- ARTICLE – Season Recap: Islanders in a state of stagnation

Without a ton of top prospects on the way though, the Islanders’ only real method of improving their roster is acquiring current NHL roster players via trade of free agency. However, once again, the Islanders face a problem that’s been at the forefront for several years now, and plagues the majority of teams around the league: a lack of cap space.

Looking at the Islanders’ roster, they have the following players under contract for the coming season:

Forwards (9): Mathew Barzal, Casey Cizikas, Pierre Engvall, Hudson Fasching, Bo Horvat, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Palmieri

Defensemen (6): Samuel Bolduc, Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock Alexander Romanov

Goalies (2): Ilya Sorokin, Semyon Varlamov

So the Islanders essentially have 17 players of their 23-man roster already locked in. From this group of players, they already have $80.6 million committed, leaving roughly $7 million remaining under the $87.7 million salary cap.

Even just to fill out their roster with six other players on league-minimum contracts though (which would each come in around a $800,000 cap hit), that would mean dedicating close to $5 million of that space, leaving only a little more than $2 million to spare.

That also doesn’t factor in extensions for restricted free agents in Simon Holmstrom and Kyle MacLean, or Mike Reilly. Of course the team could always opt to go with a reduced 22-man roster instead, but then we’re talking about what could be cap gymnastics for only less than $1 million of savings.

Essentially, the Islanders don’t have a ton of options. Some of their only scenarios would be:

1. Try to move any of the high-priced contracts that aren’t providing adequate value. The two big names that come to mind are Anders Lee at a $7 million cap hit, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau at a $5 million cap hit. However, both players have two years remaining on their respective deals, and it’s difficult to imagine any team being open to taking either contract – that’s not to mention that each player holds a modified no-trade clause. Of course there’s always the option of a buyout, but in Lee’s case, the Islanders buying out their captain seems like a really unlikely move. Then while Pageau may not be worth his $5 million cap hit, he’s still relatively effective as a third-line center, and they’d struggle to find an upgrade for the limited gained cap space anyways, once you factor in the buyout penalty against the cap. We can also expect that based on the term remaining on the contracts for members of the blue line (and trade protection) there won't be any movement there, either.

2. They could instead look to trade either Brock Nelson or Kyle Palmieri, who will both be in line for free agency in 2025. While this could help to bring back some key draft capital and prospects though, and does help to build for the future, it also signals a bit of a change in direction to establish that the Islanders aren’t positioning themselves to compete next year. Moving either player creates cap space, but obviously finding a replacement for the same price who’s equally or more effective is unlikely. It would purely be a move to build for the future, not the present (which isn't an expected route for Islanders' management to take).

Unfortunately for the Islanders, neither scenario is overly likely, and wouldn’t really leave them in a drastically better spot. But unless a move involving a player under contract for next season is made, they just don’t have the cap space to do a whole lot.

In terms of their pending free agents, both Simon Holmstrom and Kyle MacLean are still likely to come in below $1 million if they’re extended on a short-term deal. However, the Islanders may need to spend a little bit to extend Mike Reilly.

Reilly’s not going to get any sort of a huge payday, but he’s likely to get a little bit more than his current $1 million cap hit. Assuming they do extend Reilly to run back the same defense group next season, this probably leaves New York with only a little bit of money left to improve the forward group. It could be possible for the Islanders to spend what's left to target a middle-six winger, but it would still probably end up being an addition that really doesn’t move the needle a ton.

We’ve seen Lou Lamoriello get creative in the past, so it’s possible he could pull something off – but in all reality, it’s more likely that New York is in for another fairly quiet offseason.


- Season Recap: Islanders in a state of stagnation
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