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Islanders Forward Payroll: Living cheaply - for now

If Nino Niederreiter made the 2010 Islanders, his cap hit would be 15-17% of the Islanders' cap investment at forward.
If Nino Niederreiter made the 2010 Islanders, his cap hit would be 15-17% of the Islanders' cap investment at forward.

Last week around these here parts, we looked at Garth Snow's summer renovation project on the blueline, as well as a peek back at just how different the roster was entering Scott Gordon's first season.

Playing off that idea, I wanted to compare the forward picture today with the one in 2008, from a money allocation kind of way. You know what that means? Tables, baby.

The contrast between 2008 and 2010 is stark and, for the most part, promising. The high-paid veterans of two seasons ago are either gone or reduced to supporting roles at cheaper rates, while younger (and cheaper) guys with higher ceilings are taking over. However, comparing the picture at forward today with how we projected it might look back in February does highlight how Snow's focus this summer has been purely on the blueline. The Islanders are living thriftily at forward right now, but raises loom next summer.

All figures below, via CapGeek, are cap hit (including potential bonuses and averaged salary) unless otherwise noted. Lineup-wise, I have made some assumptions to fill out this roster, which assumes 2 goalies + 8 defensemen = 13 forwards to fill out the opening 23-man roster.

With those assumptions, numerically it's all the same regardless of which Tom, Dick and Harry you choose for your Matt ($852k), Jesse ($850k) or Rhett ($850k) type of 13th forward roles. Only the addition of a major free agent forward or the addition of a entry-level forward like Kirill Petrov, Kirill Kabanov or Nino Niederreiter would change things. (For example, if Nino made the team on a top-pick's entry level deal with a cap hit near $3 - 3.5 million, it could represent about 15-17 percent of the Isles' investment at forward.)

2010-11 Islanders Forwards

$6.175M $5.625M $4.922M
Forward sum: $16.722M

Obviously if and when Doug Weight re-signs, he could bump these figures up a bit -- although it's fair to wonder how much his base salary will be given his lengthy rehab, the fact the Isles are probably his only option, and the likelihood he wouldn't be 100% on Day 1. Regardless, you'd figure he'd have a few "best case" veteran bonuses in there that would push his cap hit up over his two-way Bridgeport Shuttle replacement.

Also, I'm never sure where to account for these but, Alexei Yashin's buyout theoretically adds another $4.75 million to the money sunk into "forwards."

2008-09 Islanders Forwards

$3.126M $12.75M $8.922M
Forward sum: $24.8M

In 2008, a few things happened that affected this season-opening look: Bailey stayed with the team but was injured during the early months of the season. Sillinger was injured from the get-go, his return long-delayed and, ultimately, unsuccessful. Blake Comeau broke camp down in the minors but eventually came back up for good (while Tambellini went down for a mid-winter restoration). Ultimately those moves don't affect the numbers much. Sillinger was on the books all year while the Islanders cycled various call-ups and enforcers into the lineup as needed.

In sum though, you have just short of $17 million (cap dollars) being spent on a group of forwards today that is remarkably healthier, far happier to be here and probably much better than the group that cost the Isles nearly $25 million two seasons ago.

As Brooks Laich told the Sporting News the other day:

"The New York Islanders have a lot of good young hockey players— they’re capable. I know their players work hard, and I know from our games it’s never easy to play them."

That probably couldn't have been said about the group two seasons ago -- particularly with the Islanders' go-to forwards all battling injury or veterans' ennui during that perfect storm of a lottery-winning season. Today, if the Isles' "good young hockey players" combine with an upgraded defense to produce some results with their hard work, they won't be a cheap forward group for long.