In large part due to the veteran core they’ve cultivated over the last decade and a half, the New York Islanders have been a team that has circled around the conversation of being a Stanley Cup contender. However, a team’s championship window can only remain open for so long.
Following a year in which they were a bubble team that barely qualified for the playoffs, the Islanders are entering a pivotal offseason. With the salary cap set to increase by a million dollars, the Islanders are projected to have just $6.1 million in cap space. If they hope to sign multiple free agents this offseason and stay in contention going forward, the Islanders will need to part with one or a few members of the veteran core they’ve built their foundation upon.
After appearing in just 64 games last year, Josh Bailey is primed to be a cap casualty this summer ahead of the final year of his contract. The veteran forward saw his role with the team decrease throughout the season and did not dress for any of the Islanders’ six games during the playoffs. Although Bailey feels he can play meaningful minutes in the NHL, he’s unsure if that’s still possible on Long Island.
“I got a year left on my deal, and I plan on playing it out,” Bailey said when the Islanders broke for the summer on May 1. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. I think as far as what my role is, if I’m going to be sitting in the stands a lot, it’s not something I want to do. I still believe in my abilities and what I’m still capable of doing.”
Bailey carries a $5 million cap hit this year. The Islanders could buy Bailey out of his deal, but he’d still be on their books with a $2.6 million cap hit. If the Islanders can find a rebuilding team with ample cap space to take on Bailey’s salary, they can trade him for a mid-to-late-round draft pick and completely shed themselves of his contract. While the Islanders seek out trades involving Bailey, they might as well explore other possible deals involving other players on the roster.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been a solid contributor for the Islanders in all facets of the game ever since they acquired him at the 2020 trade deadline. However, the 30-year-old center and his $5 million cap hit over the next three years may now be expendable since the Islanders are as solid down the middle as any team can hope to be after adding Bo Horvat.
The two centers have very similar play styles. The Islanders could easily have Horvat take over on the top penalty-kill unit and slide Mathew Barzal back over from the right wing if they can they can swing a deal for Pageau. The only issue is that Pageau has a modified no-movement clause included in his contract, giving him the power to veto a trade to 16 teams. Even still, the Islanders may not want to abandon the pairing of Horvat and Barzal on the top line without giving the duo a chance to re-spark the connection they had before Barzal went down with a lower-body injury in mid-February. In their first six games together, the duo combined for five goals and 12 total points.
The eight-year extensions of Barzal and Horvat, which both kick in this upcoming season, have eaten a large portion of the Islanders’ cap space, plus they’ll need to carve out room to sign Ilya Sorokin once he becomes eligible for an extension on July 1. Those three make up the new core that will be vital to keeping the Islanders in contention, but they’ll need to cut ties with some of the old guard for that to be a possibility.