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Mat and Matt: Friedman and Staple on Barzal holdup and...uh... Matt Martin?

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Two Thoughts out of 31 lead to many, many more.

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Islanders training camp continues without the services of Mathew Barzal, who has not signed a contract extension. No one on the Islanders is sweating anything (Barzal is on Long Island and has had his physical), but it’s still not an ideal situation.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed Barzal and the Islanders in his latest edition of 31 Thoughts this afternoon. It’s rare for Friedman to mention the Islanders thanks to Lou Lamoriello’s (almost) impenetrable Cone of Silence, but here he is one possible reasons why Barzal hasn’t signed yet:

5. Another team to keep an eye on in the short term: the Islanders. It’s a good omen that Mathew Barzal is there and took his physical. There’s not a lot of information when Lou Lamoriello is involved, but my sense is a long-term deal was not likely because of the team’s cap situation. The player and agent would likely use Mitch Marner and/or Mikko Rantanen as comparables, and New York can’t fit that right now. That takes us down to two- and three-year terms (3x$6M, maybe?). There’s optimism that it gets done, but the Islanders have to make room, too.

Later in the day on his No Sleep Til Belmont podcast, Arthur Staple of The Athletic expanded on the same topic, basically pointing to Barzal possibly wanting a longer deal similar to what some other restricted free agents got in recent seasons.

The Barzal section starts right at the top of the episode and continues to about the 8:00 mark. Or you can read below:

The hold up is hard to know about because Mathew Barzal’s camp has been very quiet. Lou Lamoriello, not a surprise, Islanders have been very quiet about the details. Good luck getting Lou Lamoriello to talk about any contract negotiation of any kind. But I think logically speaking, you can kind of look at it as, Mathew Barzal still trying to come to terms with the fact that he is not going to get the Mitch Marner/Mikko Rantanen-type deal where it’s five-or-six years, nine-and-a-half or ten million (Marner’s quite a bit above $10 million, I think it’s $10.8 over five years. Rantanen is six by $9.25).

Those deals were kind of crucial to that RFA class last summer, which was a big one. Marner ended up missing a little bit of Leafs camp before he signed. Rantanen missed a couple of days, I believe, of Avs camp. Kyle Conner, who’s seven by $7.14, he went down to the wire with Winnipeg. Braydon Point, Patrik Laine took bridge deals that were much shorter and a little bit cheaper.

[Barzal] had a good year last year, he had a good playoff, is clearly the most talented guy on the team so I assume he and his camp felt he needed to be paid like some of those other guys who are big name players in the league, best or second best player on their teams. And it’s really the reality of the situation that, not just for the pandemic and the flat cap, but for the Islanders who are within $3.9 million of the cap, have Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million cap hit to go over using Long Term Injured Reserve.

The other side of that coin is that the Islanders simply don’t have the cap space to give Barzal that much. As Staple goes on to explain, the desire for both sides to get a deal done is there. There’s just not a ton of room to do it.

So they have about $10 million to work with and they can’t give it all to Mathew Barzal. So I think this delay is perhaps where the player and his agent are taking some time, and there have been conversations between the two sides for weeks. It’s not like it’s been acrimonious or there’s been contact has cut off. All avenues have been open. Lou is, for all of his secrecy, is a guy who, when he wants to get something done, he’s very determined to do it. The lines of communication are always open.

I think, when we do see a deal, and like we said, Barzal is on Long Island, so that points to him wanting to be here. The Islanders put Barzal on their training camp roster even though he’s not on the ice. That points to the Islanders wanting him to be here. So I think we’re going to get a deal sometime this week, ‘cause he does need some training camp time.

But I think acceptance could be the key word we’re looking for here.

Staple’s guess at a final deal is either three years at about $7 million per, or a two year deal at about $6.25 million per. A lot can change in two seasons, when Barzal can really cash in.

Two years makes the most sense since maybe the time the 22-23 season rolls around, A. the Islanders will have a lot of money coming off their books. And you would hope the financial picture of the league is a little bit clearer and more positive, so maybe the cap would consider going up a bit. And then there’s a chance for Barzal to make another big splash if he can just a couple of years down the road.

So that’s it, right? We got a little insight into what might be keeping Barzal from signing on the dotted line and we continue to wait. Tomorrow’s another day and the Islanders season doesn’t officially kick off until January 14th. We’re all good here...?

ennnnnhhhh... not quite.

Also from 31 Thoughts:

6. Matt Martin’s extension hasn’t been announced, but word is that it’s a bit of a surprise — reflective of the loyalty the Islanders feel to him. One player the Islanders have tried to move (with a sweetener) is Thomas Hickey. Half of the defenceman’s salary for this year is already paid via a bonus, and he’s got one more year at $2.5 million. Hickey’s been through a lot personally and professionally — I hope it works out for him.

(I can’t remember the last time Friedman had TWO Islanders bits in the same article. Really wish these were about something a little more positive).

With the cat mostly out of the bag, Staple essentially confirmed Friedman’s report in a tweet posted shortly after.

I love Matt Martin. Really, I do. He’s been a valuable player, is a great guy, and has worn the blue-and-orange as proudly as anyone ever has. It’s a cliché, but Matt Martin is a throwback to the kind of player that Long Islanders fell in love with back in the early 70’s; hard working, not shy about fighting back and always leaving everything on the ice. Stick a mustache on him and take his helmet off, and you can see Martin lining up right next to Bob Nystrom and John Tonelli.

But, man. Four years? At 31? With a ton of miles (and hits) on him? That sounds like a mistake, even at a relatively modest $1.5 million per.

News of the potential deal (which has not been signed yet. Technically, Martin is on a PTO right now attending training camp) made its way to the Islanders locker room and the reaction was what you’d expect for a guy known around town as “The Mayor of Long Island.” A small sampling:

Martin had five goals in 22 playoff games during the Islanders run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. A couple were of the “Whoa. Did he just do that?” variety.

He also had five goals in 55 regular season games after having six the year before. Scoring isn’t what he’s known for obviously, but Trotz feels like the veteran can still evolve as a player.

Staple discuses Martin on today’s podcast and notes that, should it go through, the deal would mean that the Islanders’ fourth line of Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck would take up $8.25 million on the cap. Cizikas, Martin’s best bud, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. If he returns with a raise, that number will go up. Clutterbuck’s contract is up in two seasons. It’s unlikely he would get a larger deal at that point, but the idea of keeping a physical, grinding fourth line together that long for that much money is a very dicey one.

As Staple says, Lamoriello “values what Martin brings to the lineup,” and that - as has been confirmed by Trotz multiple times - the “fourth line is more than the sum of its parts.” It’s hard to see only one or two of those guys remaining Islanders, especially if Martin will be around for the next few seasons.

The biggest problem with signing Martin to a four-year deal, though, is illustrated in the top half of this same post. The Islanders simply don’t have a lot of cap room, and won’t for some time. Every dollar counts. Every year counts.

Maybe the deal can be buried in the AHL or bought out or Martin retires before it’s up. Things change. But the risk seems to outweigh the rewards right now,

Important players such as Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin will need new contracts at the end of this season. Devon Toews had to be traded this offseason due to a lack of cap space, a move Lamoriello publicly said he did not want to make but was essentially forced to due to the reality of the NHL’s $81 million cap. Moving players like Andrew Ladd (too much dough for not enough pop), Leo Komarov (same) and Thomas Hickey (medium-salaried but coming off a hellish period of injuries) has proven to be nigh impossible. Bottom line: the Islanders are stuck with them.

We all like Matt Martin as a player and a person. Loyalty is great, but prioritizing future flexibility should more important for the long term viability of the Islanders as a Stanley Cup contender. A deal like this might be small on it’s face, but its effects can be large.