I wouldn't even be writing this if it wasn't for two guys I trust bringing it up first.
First on the Point Blank podcast, then later on Hockey Night in New York, NHL.com's Brian Compton said that the Islanders would be big players should Steven Stamkos hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. On the latter show, Compton said his sources indicated that incoming majority owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are looking to make a splash right off the bat and Stamkos could be the pool they jump in at the time they take over.
Around the same time, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman was on a Calgary radio station wondering aloud if the Islanders wouldn't take a shot at Stamkos. Friedman's mentioned this a few times during the season and I'm not sure anyone thought he was serious. I'm pretty sure I didn't.
But that's two writers with clean reputations both floating the same idea about the same player at the same time. So, I guess we have to ask the question: can the Islanders actually sign Stamkos and still have enough to pay everyone else?
What He Wants
Back in January, Friedman reported (thanks, Achariya) that the Lightning's offer to Stamkos was $8.5 million a year for an undetermined amount of years. Needless to say, he turned it down. It was a low-ish ball offer, only a million dollars more than his current deal. It was also January.
In examining that offer, CBS Sports' Chris Peters noted that Stamkos' agent Don Meehan, one of the most powerful in the hockey world, has had a string of clients recently receive deals worth $10 million AAV or better, specifically Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Anze Kopitar. While Stamkos doesn't have the Stanley Cups that those guys do, he's definitely on the list of players who could command that kind of scratch.
(FYI: Other Meehan clients include Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin)
As for the term, remember that the CBA only allows for a maximum of seven years for outside free agents and eight for extensions.
With those (mostly realistic but still totally pulled out of my ass) parameters in place: let's say the Islanders offer Stamkos the max seven years at an even $10 million AAV. How would that affect the rest of the roster?
What They Have
Without Stamkos, the Islanders have $54, 228, 975 tied up in 16 players for next season - seven forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. Let's just pop Stamkos and his ten million new friends on top of that.
(all numbers courtesy of the indispensable General Fanager.)
|Steven F'ing Stamkos||C||26||$10,000,000.00|
|Calvin de Haan||D||25||$1,966,667.00|
(Also, If you haven't in a while, now would be a good time to once again soak in the magnificence of John Tavares' bargain contract. Go ahead.)
So it's a $64,228,975 total hit with Stamkos. The salary cap for next year is expected to be $74 million once the NHLPA elects to trigger its option. That means Garth Snow is looking at about $9 million in space after reeling in his big fish.
Before we can start debating whether Stamkos and John Tavares would be more effective together or on separate lines, we run into our first problem.
What They Need
Snow also has five high priority restricted free agents in need of new contracts. Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome are already regulars, and Shane Prince and Alan Quine contributed big minutes in the playoffs. Goalie Jean-Francois Berube is highly regarded by the organization and could be the back-up next season (more on that later).
In other words, all of them are coming back and are probably going to get raises. Yes, even Strome, whose sophomore season was a step in the wrong direction relative to his rookie year.
Okay, let's project. Bear in mind that this doesn't include RFAs like Scott Mayfield and Christopher Gibson who the team will want to bring back but who will probably spend significant time in Bridgeport.
Maybe I'm being too generous, maybe I'm being too stingy. But A. it's not my money and B. I am, again, pulling these numbers out of thin air.
|Player||Pos||Age||2015-16 AAV||2016-17 AAV Proj.|
I gave Cizikas the biggest raise based on his standing with the team and on the career year he had. Strome, I think, will take a smaller offer and bet on himself for his next RFA contract. Prince and Quine get bumped up from peanuts to macadamia nuts.
Although Snow has recently been more generous with RFA deals for Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, I don't think any of this crop warrant larger deals than these. Plus, we're trying to sign Steven F'ing Stamkos here. Also, I am not Garth Snow.
The $5,100,000 AAV total on the RFAs leaves us at $69,328,975 with three more questions to tackle.
The Big Three
In case you haven't heard, the Islanders also have three unrestricted free agents this season: Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin. All are longtime Islanders and players valued by the management and coaches. But business is business and none of them are Steven Stamkos.
Using the fake numbers above, Snow would have $4,671,025 left after signing the RFAs. That essentially means Okposo is out. He's a little older than Stamkos and looking for his own payday as one of the few premier forwards available to sign this offseason in the Non-Stamkos Division.
Nielsen's probably out, too, despite his inspiring and undying loyalty to the team that drafted him. He would have to take a seriously under market contract - basically the same one he's just finishing - to stay.
Martin, on the other hand, could fit in that space even with the inevitable raise for his work with Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck on the Islanders fourth line. Let's say he takes the proverbial "hometown discount" and accepts a new contract worth $1,750,000. That would be a raise from his previous $1,000,000 AAV but not enough to crush the Islanders against the cap. We'll leave the debate as to whether they should retain him for another time.
With 13 forwards (including Stamkos), seven defenseman and three goalies, the Islanders will come in exactly $2,921,025 under the salary cap.
|Steven F'ing Stamkos||C||26||$10,000,000.00|
|Calvin de Haan||D||25||$1,966,667.00|
So, that's it, right? Nope.
Intermission: A quick rant about "Cap Teams"
There's a desire among some for the Islanders to be a cap team and throw their money around like it's going out of style. I can appreciate that.
But it's important to remember that it's a hard cap, and teams cannot exceed it. If you don't have room, you can't add a player that you might need later, even one from the minors. The cap is recalculated every day, and unused space gets banked for future use.
We've also seen Snow use cap crunches to take advantage of teams that can't pay players looking for raises. The closer Snow flies to the cap, the more he risks falling into his own traps, no matter how much we may want him to spend.
Yeah, they could offer Stamkos (or anyone named above, for that matter) more money and push closer to the cap. But in my mind, a little space is a good thing.
Okay, back to Stamkos
Having about $3,000,000 under the cap gives Snow maneuvering room, but he can buy himself even more by jettisoning someone off his current roster.
The most obvious candidate is Jaroslav Halak, who at this point seems to be the odd-goalie out in the trio of he, Berube and playoff star Thomas Greiss. Moving Halak and his $4.5 million contract would get Snow down to about $7.5 million in open cap room. In a perfect world, he could use that space towards resigning Nielsen.
With all due respect to a guy who doesn't often get any, maybe it's time to give Josh Bailey a change of scenery. His contract ($3.3 million AAV for two more seasons) is reasonable, his age is palatable and his skills are quantifiable if not particularly notable.
We've also already discussed the cloudy future of Mikhail Grabovski, while his friend Nikolay Kulemin is a new target of fan trade proposals due to lengthy slumps and a relatively high price tag.
Easy calls, right? Not quite.
The goalie market is very, very small, with only Calgary and maybe Carolina actively looking for veteran help and with the cap room to take Halak in. Comparable goalies like Frederick Andersen and James Reimer are also available either by trade or as UFAs. UFA-to-be Ben Bishop might be elsewhere, too.
Replacing any of Grabovski, Kulemin or Bailey with a cheaper prospect is a major risk that could blow up in the Islanders face in a big way. Fans have been trying to trade Bailey since about 2009 despite the team being totally committed to him.
It would be nice if Snow could turn someone (or someones?) into one of the Flames' three second round picks at this year's draft, but it's not up to me.
It's also not up to his 29 colleagues to help Garth Snow sign Steven Stamkos, no matter how many hours internet commenters, message board posters and basement bloggers (including me) waste on figuring out how he can do it. It takes two to make a deal, and if you don't want a player, chances are someone else doesn't want him, either.
Yes, the Islanders can sign Stamkos, although the amount of cap space they have - and the amount of money they need to spend outside of Stamkos - doesn't quite give the new owners the kind of blank check they would appear to have.
Stamkos would be a difference maker for the Islanders on the ice, at the box office, on TV, in the newspapers and at the team store. His addition to the lineup would open all kinds of space not just for Tavares but every other forward who would get a little bit less attention from opposing defenses.
All it will take to get him is a handful of economical RFA deals and maybe a trade or two. Oh, and Stamkos wanting to come play in Brooklyn alongside his old friend Tavares for $10 million a year - but not much more. All of this is wishful offseason thinking.
If it somehow comes true, the drafting of Tavares' next contract - one that could match or dwarf whatever Stamkos ends up getting - can officially begin. But that's a lot of words and numbers for another time.