When we spoke with New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal once the 2021-22 season came to a close, he was adamant about staying with the organization for the rest of his career.
“I would love to be here on the island. This is home. This is where I want to be,” Barzal said. “This is where I want to win and I love my life here, love the city, the fans. Obviously, our new rink is amazing, and I love wearing the blue and orange so I would love to sign long-term here.”
“I think it’s such a cool thing when a player plays his whole career with one team.”
“I love Long Island, so it’s somewhere I’d want to stay,” Barzal said. “I would like to be there. It obviously is a business, but at the end of the day, I love Long Island. So, if we can make it fair and both sides are happy, then I’d sign it tomorrow.”
Well, tomorrow is today–if that makes any sense–so what is standing in the New York Islanders’ way of making Mathew Barzal a long-term member of the organization?
Well…not really anything, cap related.
The New York Islanders may be salary-cap strapped this season, with just $2.36 million in available space right now.
But next year, given some expiring contracts, fitting Mathew Barzal’s next contract under the cap is a non-issue.
Here are the players that come off the book following the season if they are not re-signed: Semyon Varlamov (UFA), Zach Parise (UFA), Scott Mayfield (UFA), Richard Panik (UFA), Oliver Wahlstrom (RFA), Kieffer Bellows (RFA).
With the emergence of Ilya Sorokin, Semyon Varlamov is likely to be out the door. Zach Parise is entering his age 39 season but has shown that the gas tank is not empty. Given his play, Scott Mayfield will be worth a lot more than his current $1.5 million.
The future defense is a significant question mark, as it depends on how the prospects develop and if they can be trusted at the NHL level. Robin Salo, who would play on the left side with Mayfield if he wins the sixth and final spot, has the ability to play the right side as well (left-handed), so there are options.
Both Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows remain restricted free agents after this season.
If Wahlstrom has a good season, he will get a raise, likely $2.5 million annually for three seasons. Bellows just got a raise as he is making $1.45 million this season and would likely receive close to that again.
A lot of likely’s, I know, but with Lou Lamoriello at the helm and seeing the work he has done with signing younger players, there is reason to be optimistic.
So, where does that leave the New York Islanders?
If things follow that path, the Islanders will have around $63.4 million on the books, before a Mathew Barzal contract.
The salary cap is supposed to rise to $83.5 million for the 2023-24 season ($1 M increase), which would give the New York Islanders a little over $20 million in space.
It’s rather tricky to compare Mathew Barzal to any other offensive player in the NHL, given the system under Barry Trotz and the lack of points in a chaotic 2021-22 season.
In 73 games, Barzal notched 15 goals with 44 assists (59 points). He missed some time with an injury and had a handful of linemates throughout the season, but he never looked entirely comfortable with anyone.
In the right system, surrounded by the right player, Barzal can be a point-per-game centerman. No, he is not the goal scorer like Jack Eichel or Aleksander Barkov, two players that are both making $10 million annually.
While Barzal is not what you would call an elite scorer, more of a playmaker, he has elite edge work that makes him a difficult player to defend.
An eight-year deal ranging from $8.5 to $9.5 million seems just, and if he wants to be on the island long term as much as he said, he may take a Long Island discount.
“As long as it’s fair” were his words on Thursday.
The New York Islanders already saw one franchise player leave the organization after pledging his allegiance to the club. Given the turnaround over the last few years, the organization is not in a position to lose another franchise player.
If Mathew Barzal wants to be here, a deal needs to come sooner rather than later, and right now, nothing is stopping the New York Islanders from making Barzal’s “wishes” a reality.