With a summer of re-signing free agents behind them, generally the New York Islanders did a pretty good job in retaining their UFAs without overpaying too much. Sure, Brock Nelson’s AAV probably should have been down by about $500,000 and Anders Lee got an extra year or two but for the most part, they’re locked into pretty alright contracts. What signing these contracts did, however, was highlight the current problem for this team. The Islanders have an age problem, especially when it comes to their forward group.
Between their top six scorers from last year, which includes Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Casey Cizikas, Jordan Eberle, as well as Lee and Nelson, everyone but Barzal will range between 28 and 30 years old by the end of 2019. In terms of New York’s payroll, those five players, plus Cal Clutterbuck, Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov occupy the top eight spots of New York’s payroll among forwards. All eight will range between 28 and 34 years old by the end of 2019 and Casey Cizikas’ contract is the only one with a term of less than three years.
Between the eight highest-paid forwards, the Islanders are on the hook for almost $39M for the next two years with only Cizikas’ contract expiring before the 2021-22 season. Don’t forget that 30-year-old Matt Martin still has another year left at $2.5M as well.
This isn’t really a matter of cap space being a concern though- it’s actually creating roster space that’s the bigger problem. Along with those nine forwards under contract, you can add Mathew Barzal and likely Anthony Beauviller to the list of players who will stick around long-term. This leaves just one opening for a forward in the lineup and it’s at center, a position where the Islanders don’t really have any prospects who could come up to fill the spot.
It’s not like the Islanders can simply make a trade to free roster space either. Eberle, Ladd, Lee and Nelson each have a no-trade clause. Nobody is taking on Clutterbuck, Komarov or Martin’s contracts. Barzal and Beauvillier aren’t going anywhere and are the only young forward assets on the team. This leaves Josh Bailey or Casey Cizikas to be moved. Bailey, though inconsistent, has been among New York’s top-three scorers for the last three years and he’s one of the few forwards on the Islanders creating offense. Without Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Martin would be completely lost, plus, the Islanders already aren’t overly strong up the middle as is. The Islanders are locked down with one open spot up front. For a goal-starved team, there isn’t any space to actually add anyone to help right now, other than a center but again, this team is already old and adding another center in their late 20s isn’t going to help the problem.
Another key part in this is that Michael Dal Cole, Josh Ho-Sang or even Otto Koivula may all be able to help the team, but won’t get any significant playing time so long as the rest of the lineup is healthy. Of the players under contract mentioned before, Matt Martin is the only one who could maybe be scratched. Even then, how much help can anyone be on the fourth line? The only possible scenario is that Martin gets scratched, Ladd moves to the fourth line and there’s an opening for a winger in the top-nine. That being said, it’s probably pretty unlikely that Martin is scratched to begin with because it diminishes the fourth line’s purpose.
The point here is the Islanders are a team in need of offensive help with a forward roster crammed with aging forwards who are unable to produce. Plus, even though the contracts given to Eberle, Lee and Nelson weren’t bad and realistically, were even necessary based on the Islanders' current lack of offense, there’s now even more of a logjam up front. There needs to be a solution to create roster space or this could be a season of waiting, knowing full well that the team needs scoring but not being able to do anything about it.
For more, follow @BenShelley_20 on Twitter.