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NY Islanders Cap and Expansion Dilemma

After a strong playoff run, the New York Islanders and GM Lou Lamoriello have little time to catch their breath in dealing with the expansion draft, the entry draft, and re-signing their RFA’s.

Signing their RFA’s is a daunting task. According to Cap Friendly, they have $5.7 million in cap space. This puts the Islanders in a precarious position. Lamoriello’s predecessor, Garth Snow, drafted and crafted an excellent roster. Lou arrived in May of 2018, losing captain John Tavares to free agency. He made some small, effective tweaks and one huge addition on June 21st, 2018. He hired head coach, Barry Trotz. The Lou and Barry duo immediately changed the culture within the Islander organization thrusting them into a strong playoff-contending team. Trotz was armed with a ready-to-win roster littered with a mix of veterans and kids. They have come close the last two seasons but had their seasons ended by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They are now at a crossroads with two major issues on the horizon. The expansion draft and re-signing their RFA’s. With limited cap space, they need to sign three crucial RFA’s. Defenseman Adam Pelech, winger Anthony Beauvillier, and goaltender Ilya Sorokin. All have arbitration rights and are critical to the Islanders’ success. Unless Lou gets creative, UFA Casey Cizikas may not return to the team because they cannot fit him into the salary cap,

Lou does not have many trade chips at his disposal. He bolstered the lineup but at the cost of dealing, first-round picks the last two years. They do not have their own 2nd round pick but possess Colorado’s 2nd round pick. These picks may entice Seattle GM Ron Francis to step in and offer some help. This help will come at a steep price.

Teams either protect 7F/3D/1G or 8 skaters and a goalie. All players with NTC (No Trade Clause) and NMC (No Movement Clause) must be protected unless agreed upon by the player and team. The Islanders have 5 forwards and zero defensemen with such clauses. Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Leo Komarov, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau must be protected. Mathew Barzal is a lock for one of the two remaining spots.  They as well as the other 30 teams (Vegas is exempt from the draft) must expose at least two forwards under contract for the 2021-2022 season. They need to expose one defenseman who is under contract for next season. Ideally, the Islanders prefer a higher salary player selected. This provides an added bump in cap space. Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy make $5 million each. If either of them is selected, it will give the Islanders much-needed wiggle room to keep their RFA’s. The problem is Seattle will most likely not be interested in Bailey who has 3 years of term remaining. Leddy has this year and then becomes a UFA. Lou can entice Francis to select Bailey but at what cost? Lamoriello may try to sell Bailey was second on the team in regular-season scoring and had 13 points in 19 playoff games. But the playoff numbers are a bit deceiving because he did the bulk of his scoring in the first two rounds.

Leddy was steady again. Nothing flashy, just another 30+ point season from the blueline. He is excellent on the powerplay once inside the zone. At times he breakdowns a penalty kill with his speed but does not do it often.  He is not a physical defender but uses his legs and smarts to angle opposing forwards from dangerous scoring areas. Leddy is simply consistent without flash and flair.

Another option is convincing Leo Komarov to waive his Modified NTC. At $3 million for one more year, he plays the type of game playoff teams covet. This allows Francis to move him at the deadline provided Seattle is not in playoff contention.

The Islanders forward protection list appears to shake out as follows:
Anders Lee
Leo Komarov
Mathew Barzal
Brock Nelson
Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier

They can roll the dice, leaving Beauvillier exposed but that is a huge gamble. It appears Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Josh Bailey are the odd men out. That exposes 2/3 of the captaincy trio in Bailey and Clutterbuck.

Now we move to the defense which is void of anyone carrying restrictive clauses. Leddy, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield fit the exposure requirements. Pulock is a lock to be protected as is RFA and defense partner Adam Pelech. Hoping to shed salary, that leaves Leddy as the odd man out.

Defense protected list:
Adam Pelech
Ryan Pulock
Scott Mayfield

Goalie is a non-issue as rookie Ilya Sorokin is exempt and Semyon Varlamov will or should be protected.

Void of a trade or two, it appears Seattle will choose a forward from the Islanders unless they feel they need the higher salary Leddy to reach the cap floor. Lou has his work cut out and needs some help with not much at his disposal. The next few weeks loom large for the team who has been knocking on Lord Stanley’s door the last two seasons.

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