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Free Agency

Islanders’ June Primer: Forecasting UFA Contracts



Cal Clutterbuck, with the Islanders for the last decade, faces an uncertain future.

NHL Free Agency will open in exactly four weeks. There will be some flashy names available, and there will be instantly regrettable contracts; as long-time hockey executive Brian Burke was fond of saying, there are more mistakes made on July 1 than any other day.

The New York Islanders will be active as evidenced by their obvious need to break free from the mid-pack and president of hockey operations/GM Lou Lamoriello has already done some schmoozing on the NHL trade market, acquiring additional draft capital.

In the coming days and weeks at NYI Hockey Now, we will review potential targets, players to avoid, potential bargains, and the complete Islanders situation. We will be the one-stop shop for all things Islanders related, and that’ll be all summer long, especially considering Lamoriello doesn’t always like to announce contracts in a timely manner.

Before we get to all that, though, we must go over the Islanders pending free agents, restricted and unrestricted, along with how much cap space the team might have after any potential re-signings.

Today, we will highlight the UFA situation.

Setting the Table

According to CapFriendly, the Islanders currently have $6.287 million available. However, once you remove Julien Gauthier from the equation, that number grows to $7.075 million for Lou Lamoriello to work with.

The Islanders’ list of free agents is not very big, but there are some notable pieces. Let’s break it down by position groups before we sort out who might stay and who will likely go.

Forwards: UFAs: Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Karson Kuhlman (AHL), Brian Pinho (AHL). RFAs: Simon Holmstrom, Kyle MacLean, Ruslan Iskhakov, Oliver Wahlstrom

Defense: UFAs: Sebastian Aho, Mike Reilly, Robert Bortuzzo, Robin Salo RFAs: Dennis Cholowski

Goalies: UFAs: Ken Appleby (AHL)

Depth is the key here. Regarding UFAs, the Islanders only stand to lose one player who played over 60 games. Clutterbuck played in 82 games. Martin played 57 games but lost another step visibly. Reilly played 59 after being claimed off of waivers. Aho lost his roster spot to Reilly and played 58 games, thanks to the oft-injured Islanders blue line this year. Bortuzzo played just 23 games after being an emergency acquisition after Mayfield and Pulock got injured.

Who Stays, Who Goes

Salo is where it gets interesting. Salo, who seemed to have real NHL promise just a couple of seasons ago, has struggled mightily. He had 24 points in 68 AHL games this year but 20 in 40 AHL games two years ago. It’s the second straight year the Islanders have a Group 6 UFA.

Parker Wotherspoon, the Islander’s seventh defenseman in 2022-23, left unsigned and went to the Boston Bruins on a league minimum-deal. He won a roster spot, played 41 games, and then ten more in the postseason. It’s safe to say the Islanders could’ve used him.

Wotherspoon had been on an upward trajectory, however. Salo has nosedived. Another team would likely take a flier on Sal0 and stick him with their AHL team, but I struggle to see the Islanders doing so.

Reilly is the priority on the backend. Let’s estimate two years at $1.25 million. That would take the Islanders down to $5.775. The Islanders may want to keep Bortuzzo around as a depth piece, as he filled in nicely when called up. He would be a league minimum deal, further subtracting the Islanders to $5 million.

That leaves Martin, Clutterbuck, and Aho from the NHL roster without contracts. Head coach Patrick Roy’s system relies heavily on speed. Coupled with the need to move on from some older players, I think it’s safe to say Martin and Clutterbuck are done in the blue and orange. Aho might need a change of scenery to see if he can find another level in his game. At the age of 28, it might be his last chance.

Only $5 million in space, but that’s before we’ve even gotten to the RFAs. It’s simply not enough to bring everyone back, and add to the roster.

What Comes Next?

Knowing Lamoriello, the ink is drying on some extensions already. But he has time, so he’s going to use it. The trade with the Chicago Blackhawks gave him draft capital. Speculation is swirling about the futures of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, Pageau’s value, which was positive at this past trade deadline, has aged like milk and is now a negative asset. It’s imperative to find a way out of his deal to be able to make more moves. Pageau, 31, absolutely has NHL hockey in him. He had a down year. But at $5 million for two more years, it’s a steep price.

Lee, however, might be immovable. He had a strong showing in the playoffs, which may help, but at $7 million for two more years, it would take a lot to move his deal. The Islanders are better off keeping the captain around than burning draft capital to move him.

Buckle up, Islanders fans. The ride is going to get bumpy soon. The Islanders will make moves, and players will move on. Through it all, we will have you covered here at NYI Hockey Now.

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