Restricted free agent Ryan Strome remains unsigned by the Islanders, having turned down the team’s qualifying offer at the deadline back on June 15th. While that might be cause for grave alarm (the default setting for most Islanders fans anyway), there’s little indicating that there’s anything to worry about right now.
The situation is very reminiscent of another recent Islanders restricted free agent - Brock Nelson - who last year also turned down his qualifying offer before signing a three-year, $7.5 million ($2.5 million AAV) deal on the eve of training camp. At the time, Nelson ran the risk of sitting out the entire season as punishment for not signing before camp, a longstanding team rule under then-owner Charles Wang. According to some very worrying reports, Nelson’s agent and Islanders GM Garth Snow didn’t talk for weeks.
So we sweated it out and discussed Doomsday scenarios, only to have Nelson sign anyway just before camp started. Same thing happened with Josh Bailey a few years earlier.
By rejecting his qualifying offer, Strome, like Nelson and Bailey, chose to go a different route than Anders Lee, who signed his $850K qualifying offer in the summer of 2014. Lee, who had 14 points in 22 games that season, and agent Neil Sheehy figured Lee could get more money the following year by having another solid season under his belt. They were right. After Lee scored 25 goals in 2014-15, he signed a four-year, $15 million ($3.75 million AAV) contract extension.
We don’t know right now how much the Islanders are offering Strome or how much he’s seeking. Unfortunately, his body of work doesn’t really clear either of them up.
In 2014-15, his first full NHL season, Strome finished third on the team with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists). He had a 53% 5v5 CF, played 162 minutes on the power play and generally was one of the Islanders’ most important forwards (all numbers courtesy of corsica.hockey).
But last season was a different story. His point total dropped to 28 on eight goals and 20 assists, his CF% dropped to 50% (still one of the better numbers on the team) and his overall power play time fell off by about 50 minutes. In a controversial decision that will rankle Islanders fans until the sun explodes, Strome was sent down to the AHL thanks to a very slow start and his ability to be demoted without requiring waivers.
Strome was expected by many to be John Tavares’s winger going into the season, and the two spent a lot of time together over the course of 70 games. With the all-too-frequently-injured Mikhail Grabovski, they were very good. With Brock Nelson, they were pretty good, but didn’t score a ton of goals.
Other combinations were less successful to varying degrees.
In the playoffs, Strome was scratched twice during the Islanders’ series against the Florida Panthers, and their victory in six games did little to quell fans fears that the 22-year-old was being wasted by the coaching staff. But after the season, Strome - and Newsday’s Arthur Staple - both made clear that no animosity existed between him and the team.
"I really haven't faced adversity like I have this year," said Strome, the team's No. 5 overall pick in 2011. "It's only going to make you a better player and a better person."
If there were any questions about Strome harboring resentment to the team or Capuano, he squashed it.
"Not at all," he said. "Even when I'm not playing, it's not fun and you're probably pretty upset deep down. But I'm always cheering the loudest when I'm not playing. I have the biggest Islander heart. I want to help this team win. That's all it's ever been."
So who are the Islanders re-signing? The reliable, confident 50-point player of 2014-15 or the struggling 28-point one from last season? Every single person involved in this decision - including us and Ryan Strome - hope it’s the former.
Feel the Crunch
Under normal circumstances, the Islanders would have more cap space than they know what to do with. But this season, Snow only has about $3 million under the salary cap with which to sign Strome. Should Snow give Strome a deal for more than $3 million per a season, he’d have to get rid of someone via trade before the season starts to get cap compliant again.
(Also under normal circumstances, I’d write that Snow usually plays hardball and wins versus RFAs. But the too generous Casey Cizikas extension from earlier this offseason kinda puts that idea to bed.)
Chances are that Strome doesn’t reach that stratosphere, anyway. If I had to guess, I’d say he probably signs for between $1.5 and $2.4 million AAV for three seasons, a.k.a more than the qualifying offer, but no more than what Nelson received.
I’m making that completely horseshit guess based on the “What Have You Done For Me Lately” principle (otherwise known as the Janet Jackson Paradigm). Fair or not, Strome’s sub-par performance last season is going to weigh heavily on whatever final number is agreed to. He’s within his rights to say that last season was a fluke and that he’s due to outperform the bare minimum raise he’d get from the qualifying offer. But so are the Islanders to shrug and say, “prove it.”
Of course, that’s easy for me to say since I’m not Ryan Strome, his agent, nor Garth Snow. I’m also not Scott Malkin or Jon Ledecky, so I also don’t know if Wang’s Sign-or-Sit rule is still in effect. Staple doesn’t know about the rule either, but he doesn’t see Strome holding out.
So we’re sweating it out again. Not only Strome re-signing (please re-sign Ryan), but also the next chapter in his winding story as it plays out on the ice.