Elmont, NY–With 24 players on their roster and only 23 spots available after cutting many of the prospects who had joined them throughout training camp, the New York Islanders will need to decide on one final player to cut before the NHL’s roster deadline this upcoming Monday at 5 p.m. EST.
No matter which they decide to keep, cutting one will get the Islanders underneath the NHL’s $83.5 million salary cap.
The decision over who earns the final roster spot will come down to what they can provide the Islanders during the regular season after both spent all of training camp battling to make the team.
Holmstrom has spent much of camp skating with Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal. Holding on to him gives the Islanders someone who can take over –or at the very least fill for the time being–that vital role next to their two best offensive players and can play in several other spots within the lineup as well.
On the other hand, Johnston isn’t nearly as versatile.
A prototypical enforcer, Johnston usually only gets a chance to play when a member of the Islanders’ famed ‘Identity Line’ can’t.
In his last four full NHL seasons, Johnston has played an average of 22 games per year. Last year, he played in just 16 games while on the first year of a contract with an annual salary of $1.1 million.
Johnston still has three years remaining on that contract, and ridding themselves of it would be huge for the cap-strapped Islanders.
However, it’d be much easier to cut Holmstrom than it would be Johnston.
Still on his rookie deal, Holmstrom is waiver-exempt, meaning he’d head straight to AHL Bridgeport, where he’d likely play more meaningful minutes than he would with the Islanders and continue his development.
As for Johnston, he’d have to go through waivers and could be picked up by another team willing to take on his contract. Although that possibility is rather unlikely, Johnston has meant a lot to the Islander’s culture over the years, and his potential departure would be felt immensely throughout the organization.
No matter who the Islanders keep, the decision won’t come easy and will be based on a variety of factors.
But which will carry more weight? Team chemistry, ability or financial flexibility.
It’s a delicate balance.