Baba O'- er, Blair Riley and the Islanders 50 Contract Limit

CBA talk.

This is where we try to spin the Blair Riley signing into something interesting. So we'll eventually get to how he fits into the 50 NHL contract limit which each team has.

For certain, it's a cool story for Baba O'Riley Blair Riley, who at age 26 gets his first contract in "the show." He was in the ECHL last year -- in fact, his team folded -- but got a big break when Brent Thompson, who seems to have an encyclopedia of ECHLers in his head, recruited him on a November PTO. No doubt out here in the fields, he fights for his meals, particularly coming from the ECHL wasteland.

He impressed physically, he stuck, and he even reeled off seven goals down the stretch. Now he has an NHL (albeit two-way) contract, though the AHL salary is still small ($45k, according to CapGeek) and the NHL salary is at the minimum. Riley's route is through the junior-juniors in B.C., plus a four-year stint at Ferris State, and no draft. Educated and intensely aware of that whole "what it takes" just to be here? Yes.

But an NHL prospect just making the AHL at 26? Not quite. So why does he get one of the 50 contract spots? Let us check the temperature...

He earned an AHL deal late last season and told Michael Fornabaio he's happy to get next year's destination finalized early. He was popular with fans.

In the post-season wrap up, Fornabaio shared thoughts from Riley on his year:

“When I started out, I was kind of feeling my way around,” Riley said. “I think I improved probably in the skating department, keeping up with the pace. Obviously it’s something I’ve got to continue to improve on, as a bigger forward, improve on my quickness, footspeed. It’ll help me a long way as a player.”

“I learned a lot. Penalty kill, defensive zone; finding a defensive role as a checker, as a penalty killer.”

One additional thought is that, having impressed Thompson and embraced the demands of being a tough guy while also showing he can handle some checking roles, Riley steps in as Micheal Haley and Trevor Gillies approach unrestricted free agency. Remember that tough forward Mike Halmo has also joined the fold (also on an NHL two-way deal), adding to the bodies who can play with chips on their shoulders.

With how the Sound Tigers' second half went and how well his ECHL recruits contributed, if Thompson remains as head coach (there is the occasional suggestion that he's a candidate for the NHL bench), you'd surely want him to be able to pick a few guys to hang on to.

It's a one-year deal, he'll push himself, Bridgeport will have some youngsters in need of protection, so it's low risk, decent reward.

50 Contract Limit

Meanwhile, here's how the 50 contract situation looks as of now (source for contracts: CapGeek). The Islanders typically stay under that limit as they enter the season -- unlike, say, the Flyers who sign first, as questions later -- leaving room for an in-season signing or two as necessary (e.g. Trevor Gillies in December a couple of years ago).

Players under NHL contract but returned to their junior teams do not count against the 50-contract limit, which can make training camp interesting for teams pushing the limit and having several juniors on the cusp.. So Ryan Strome didn't count in 2011-12. (Will he count in 2012-13?)

Signed (27)
Forwards (16) Defense (7) Goalies (4)
Tavares Streit Nabokov
Moulson Hamonic DiPietro
Grabner MacDonald Nilsson
Okposo Donovan Poulin
Niederreiter de Haan
Nielsen Ness
Reasoner Cantin
Bailey
Cizikas
Nelson
Halmo
Strome
Kabanov
Persson
Ullström
Riley
Restricted Free Agents (12)
Forwards (8) Defense (3) Goalies (1)
Martin Katic Koskinen
Rakhshani Alexandrov
Backman Wishart
Riendeau
Marcinko
McNeely
DiBenedetto
Romano

So even if the Islanders sign all their RFAs (a stretch), they'd be at 39 contracts. Qualifying Martin, Rakhshani and Koskinen are no-brainers. You'd think Wishart, Backman, DiBenedetto and Romano would continue to help in the AHL, but we'll see how it all shakes out.

Let's look at who else they might lose and/or need to replace.

Unrestricted Free Agents (12)
Forwards (6) Defense (4) Goalie (2)
Parenteau Jurcina Montoya
Pandolfo Staios Grahame (!)
Haley Eaton
Frischmon Reese
Colliton
Gillies

Many of these guys, and conceivably all, will be gone.

Not a whole lot of free agents, all told. Some decisions to make, but they could re-sign just about everyone (which they won't) and still be around the limit, give or take a Grahame (who was only signed as an emergency fill-in when Evgeni Naokov got hurt in the season's dying days).

You could add one more name in the off chance the Islanders' top pick in this year's draft goes straight to the NHL (unlikely, but...). You could remove one if Strome is returned to junior.

While the P.A. Parenteau decision looms large (whether it's him or a replacement), as do promotions like Kirill Kabanov to the AHL at least, and Ryan Strome and an AHL defenseman or two possibly to the NHL, the bounty of decisions will be in filling out the AHL lineup for Bridgeport.

What might be more interesting is how the Islanders get up to the cap floor of $54.3 million with the cap now estimated to increase to $70.3. That's about $14 million more to add -- at the NHL level, mind you, and most of the already signed promotion candidates aren't big bonus boys. They manage to get there every year, but with the cap just going up and up, complying in the final summer of this CBA will be interesting.

And then, in a dagger for those of us who open the CBA document way too often to read its "bona fide" legalese, it will all change.

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