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How the Islanders Salary Cap and Roster Look Before Free Agency

Is there room for Justin Williams? And if so, then what?

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders
Adam Pelech and Justin Williams: Remaining opponents?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Do the New York Islanders have the salary cap and forward roster room to add Washington Capitals free agent forward and “Game 7 maestro” Justin Williams?

Yes, and it depends*.

*There is also the philosophy: If you can add a better player, don’t you make roster room?

One thing known about the team as early as this past winter, when a controversially rich extension for bottom-sixer Cal Clutterbuck was announced following a similarly eye-opening deal for Casey Cizikas last summer, is that the Islanders already had a full slate of forwards signed for 2017-18.

The confident sort might see that as stability, but it was more plainly a red flag for a club that struggled to climb back into playoff contention after a disastrous first half, and missed the playoffs by one point only after a rare lengthy winning streak to close out the season.

True, the team aims for upgrades from a forward pool of late-season recall Josh Ho-Sang, top prospect Mathew Barzal, teenage debutante Anthony Beauvillier (if he avoids a sophomore slump), the trade of Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle, plus the expected full-time promotion of Ryan Pulock on the blueline.

But while that group poses little salary cap pressure — outside of Eberle’s $6 million cap hit — it does represent a lot of bodies fighting for a finite amount of spots.

Training Camp Battles

And yet thanks to the waiver-exempt status of Barzal, Beauvillier and Ho-Sang, the Islanders have some roster flexibility at forward; it just requires moves that would frustrate many fans tired of seeing bottom-six types block prospects.

So there is salary cap and roster room for unrestricted free agent Justin Williams, for whom the Islanders are reportedly in the running, and whom Doug Weight led the charge to try to sign him last time he was on the market a couple of summers ago.

There would still maybe, theoretically be cap room to add Matt Duchene via trade — if such a trade would get significant salary heading out the other direction — though the chances of that happening appeared to fade when neither the Isles nor Avalanche would budge from demands in that negotiation.

On the one hand, it’s hard to see the Islanders changing their pattern and adding such pieces, or starting the season with Barzal and Ho-Sang in the lineup while cutting loose good (and non-waiver exempt) soldiers. The re-signing of Dennis Seidenberg smelled of same old over-reliance on veterans in a league where youth — salary cap-friendly youth — is ascendant.

On the other hand, more offensively/creatively oriented Doug Weight is behind the bench now, and the Islanders appear to have more urgency to alter the status quo this summer. Maybe they surprise us.

Islanders Salary Cap

Regardless, here’s a rough look at the Islanders salary cap before free agency opens and before contract extensions are reached with restricted free agent defensemen Calvin de Haan and Adam Pelech.

All figures via Cap Friendly

New York Islanders Salary Cap 2017-18

Eberle 6 Boychuk 6 Halak 4.5
Tavares 5.5 Leddy 5.5 Greiss 3.3
Ladd 5.5 Hickey 2.2
Kulemin 4.1875 Seidenberg 1.25
Lee 3.75 Mayfield 0.625
Clutterbuck 3.5 Pulock 0.8633
Cizikas 3.35
Bailey 3.3
Nelson 2.5
Chimera 2.25
Beauvillier 0.8942
Prince 0.85
Quine 0.612
Players: 13 6 2
Positional Cap Hit: 42.1937 16.4383 7.8
Total Players: 21
Total Cap Hit: 66.432 Cap Space: $8.50

Missing Pieces Still to Sign

As noted, the above only reflects 21 players on what is usually a 23-man roster.

  • It’s hard to see the Isles signing Pelech to a deal that significantly alters his cap hit over others in the minors who could replace him, though we should expect him to make more than a typical ELC.
  • De Haan is the more significant factor. We are in a league where steady second/third pair defensemen make $3-4 million even on deals signed as RFAs. There’s been no word on the framework of de Haan negotiations, but this contract will take him into unrestricted free agency, so any year in his deal beyond this coming season should be seen in that context.
  • Williams is coming off a two-year contract that averaged $3.25 million annually, and that’s after a four-year deal with the Kings that averaged $3.825. So don’t pencil him in for anything higher than $4 million, and likely less.

Combine those, and you’re basically eating up the remaining cap space. However, there are caveats:

Between Pelech, de Haan and a hypothetical Wiliams addition, we’re already going one over the 23-man roster. So if you add Williams, take away forward from the above list — but it’s probably Alan Quine or Shane Prince, players making under $1 million. (And if you add Mathew Barzal and/or Josh Ho-Sang here, you’re replacing them with ~$1 million cap hits.)

Roster Scenarios

So now it’s time to project the opening roster. If you go only by the above cap pieces, you might have (please don’t read into the lines themselves):

Lee - Tavares - Eberle
Bailey - Nelson - Ladd
Prince/Beauvillier - Quine - Chimera
Kulemin - Cizikas - Clutterbuck

or if you swap ELCs and/or demote Quine/Prince, you might have:

Lee - Tavares - Eberle
Bailey - Barzal - Ho-Sang
Chimera - Beauvillier/Nelson - Ladd
Kulemin - Cizikas - Clutterbuck

Add Williams where you like to the above, and demote either an ELC (Beauvillier, Ho-Sang, Barzal) and/or a Quine/Prince.

For reference, those ELC forwards are still waiver-exempt, but Quine and Prince are not. That shouldn’t matter much, but the Isles have a history of starting their season without exposing the previous season’s regulars to waivers, and waiting for injuries to allow callups.

But then there’s the blueline: Ryan Pulock is no longer waiver exempt, so count him on the 23-man roster. Pelech and Mayfield, too, have lost their waiver exemption. Given the Isles’ history, you could see them keeping eight defensemen of Boychuk, Leddy, de Haan, Hickey, Seidenberg, Pulock, Pelech and Mayfield on the opening roster.

If they are willing to risk waivers on one of the latter two, or if a Radek Martinek/Matt Carkner/Eric Boulton-style training camp injury conveniently puts one on IR, then there is more flexibility with the many forwards.

But just by waiver status alone, the current roster expectation favors eight defensemen and 13 forwards.

Coda: All of the Marbles

In a mythical world where the Islanders both add Williams via free agency and somehow still swing a trade for Duchene, the roster/dominoes actually don’t change as much as you might expect.

Because the only salary cap way they could add both is by shedding some real non-ELC salaries, most likely from among Nelson, Bailey (trade), Chimera or Kulemin (buyout).

(This is where investing so much in the bottom half of their forward lineup hurts. Yes, it’s good to have third and fourth lines who can play; but no, it’s not sustainable to pay them veteran salaries when you already have $3-4 million salaries or greater at most other forward positions and you’re hoping to add high-end talents like Eberle and/or Duchene.)

The point is — for fantasy’s sake here — the home-run act of actually landing both Williams and Duchene would require giving up/buying out some bodies who would otherwise be part of the roster logjam.

If they could actually convince the two key parties to agree to terms, they could find the room.