Word out of the Spring 2016 NHL General Managers Meetings and Pro-Am on Wednesday morning was that next year's NHL salary cap could remain flat at the $71.5 million level it was at this season, or increase by $3 million thanks to an escalator clause in the CBA.
As Dom wrote in his article, that escalator is likely to kick in because that is generally how the NHLPA has operated in the past. The players might hate paying the extra escrow, but they hate leaving their brothers without jobs even more.
So, how much room does that leave the Islanders to play with? Let's look (all numbers courtesy of GeneralFanager.com).
First, here are the players signed for next season and how much they will be making.
|SIGNED||2016-17 Cap Hit|
|D||Calvin de Haan||$1,966,667|
|Cap Space (w/flat cap)||$17,171,025|
|Cap Space (w/escalator)||$19,771,025|
We'll get to Hamonic in a minute. Next are the restricted free agents looking for new contracts. Here they are listed at their current cap hits.
|RFA||2015-16 Cap Hit|
The three forwards on this list will most likely stick around and we'll look at them later, too. Berube, though, is an interesting case. He's played well in his very, very, very small sample size (including, like, Tuesday in Pittsburgh), but it's doubtful the Islanders will A. carry three goalies again next season or B. leave him in Bridgeport and risk waivers sending him back and forth. We'll leave him off starting here since we don't know. Even if he was retained, he probably won't cost much simply based on the amount of NHL work he's gotten to this point.
Now, on to the really tricky issues. Here's the list of unrestricted free agents and what cap hits they'll be coming off of.
|UFA||2015-16 Cap Hit|
The question for them is who stays and for how much? Things could get weird.
Hopes, fears and preditions
Nearly $20 million in cap space sounds like a lot until you factor in all the players - known or unknown - Snow will have to sign.
(Note: please remember that I am a complete idiot and am basically pulling these numbers out of my ass)
For this exercise, we'll give Nielsen a tidy $4.25 million hit (on a four-year, $17 million deal) which might be a bit on a conservative side considering his importance to the team. Since it's not my money, I'd be more willing to hear a higher price should Nielsen and his agent make that argument. But again, I am not Garth Snow.
Bash brothers Cizikas and Martin are a dicier proposition. Martin may be loved by management, but there's no getting around his limited value on the ice. While I don't think his return is a foregone conclusion, it's probably more likely than not. Anything even approaching a $2 million cap hit would be too much, but let's assume the Islanders make that mistake. Cizikas is a more skilled player and his long-term prospects are better, but my fear is that the Islanders could end up paying for a contract year based mainly off his play on this season. That said, I'm gonna guess they get matching (but not necessarily endorsed) deals that are $1.8 million each on the cap (say, three years and $5.5 million a pop).
Strome gets a little less than the Brock Nelson Value Meal at $2 million, based less on this season and more on a future bet. He's still a big part of the team going forward, even as expectations adjust. And we were very generous to Prince, bumping him up to an even $1 million. However, if I were an RFA going into negotiations with Garth Snow, I wouldn't get my hopes up for a jackpot.
Strait is the fanbase's favorite target of scorn, and his stint may be coming to an end. The time for playing young defensemen like Pulock, Pelech and Scott Mayfield in the NHL could (and should) be soon. I won't rule Strait out totally (because between familiarity and price, you never know), but let's say for this exercise that he's not an Islander next season. Bernier, Zidlicky and Boulton are given heartfelt handshakes on the way out the door.
We also removed Travis Hamonic, who we'll assume will eventually have his trade request fulfilled. Who comes back the other way is unknown, but that player's cap hit will have a huge impact on the Islanders' outlook. Snow has gone to great lengths to construct a tight salary structure for his team. So tight, in fact, that the chance of him getting back a player as good as Hamonic making as little as Hamonic does is basically zero, squeezing the team's wallet even tighter.
Nevertheless, a replacement will have to be found, even if we subtract Strait and slot Pulock or Pelech (who's currently on IR with a mystery illness) into his place.
Okay, okay. Now, we can talk about Kyle Okposo. We surmised almost a year ago that the comparables put Okposo in the $6 million a year range. Newsday's Arthur Staple has frequently said that Okposo could be looking for $7 million.
Even giving Okposo the lower number would put Snow in a real bind.
|Projected With Okposo||2016-17 Cap Hit|
|D||Calvin de Haan||$1,966,667|
|Cap Space (w/flat cap)||$4,228,167|
|Cap Space (w/escalator)||$6,828,167|
Using the above (again, idiotic) numbers, either $6 or $7 million for Okposo would be too much when you factor in a Hamonic replacement and any other reinforcements brought from outside the organization. Snow would have to stretch that $6.8 million out to cover a lot of ground and plug a lot of holes. All while giving himself enough wiggle room to not end up like the cap crunched teams he's taken advantage of in the past.
Obviously, there's a lot up in the air. Martin could be let go, or he could be overcompensated for his efforts. Strome could get less than expected based on a somewhat disappointing season (that earlier included a demotion to the AHL) and Snow's usual RFA hardball. Okposo could shock the world and take an incredible discount to stay. Nielsen could ask for the moon and Snow could give it to him. Trades could be made. Rookies could dazzle at training camp and make a big impact for little money.
But knowing the salary cap ballpark means Snow can start putting pens to paper on who he wants to keep and penciling in who he thinks he can add. Kinda like what were going to be doing for the next few months.