With Mathew Barzal now locked up for the next eight seasons for $73.2 million, the New York Islanders do have decisions to make following the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. And the newest owner of the long-term contract hopes the Islanders can get a few of his teammates signed long-term as well.
“Hopefully, we can get some more guys locked in here, you know, in the [next] couple years and just ride with this group because I feel confident,” Mathew Barzal shared Tuesday.
The New York Islanders, with Mat Barzal’s $9.15 million annual salary cap hit, now have $10.46 million cap space to play with following the 2022-23 season.
Currently, there are four NHL players on expiring contracts, two of which are unrestricted free agents: Kieffer Bellows (RFA), Oliver Wahlstrom (RFA), Scott Mayfield (UFA), Semyon Varlamov (UFA).
For 24-year-old Kieffer Bellows, who signed a one-year extension worth $1.20 million this past offseason, the 2022-23 campaign might be his last chance to prove that he can be an everyday NHL player. Regardless, because of his RFA status, the Islanders can bring him back on a similar deal, especially if they think he can play a critical role for the organization.
The Islanders could also use Bellows as a trade piece with the forward group currently rather crowded, with him potentially being the odd man out.
For Oliver Wahlstrom, the 22-year-old still needs to show the New York Islanders that he can be a consistent goal scorer.
Currently making pennies on the dollar for an NHL player, we could see him get a raise from his $894,167 to $2-$2.75 million, depending on his offensive production this season.
Now onto Scott Mayfield.
Despite not getting the recognition he deserves, Mayfield has been a steady force on the backend for the New York Islanders over his 10-year career. In 2018, Mayfield signed a five-year extension worth $7.25 million, carrying an annual cap hit of $1.45 million.
Since then, Mayfield has outperformed his annual value and deserves a raise on his next deal, which could be valued at $4 million annually.
Do the Islanders, who already have money locked into each of their top-four defensemen, view the 29-year-old Mayfield as a want or a need?
The Islanders have a few defensemen in the pipeline, and although Robin Salo is likley to play on the left side of Mayfield this season, the 23-year-old defenseman does have the ability to play the right side.
Samuel Bolduc, Grant Hutton, Sebastian Aho, Dennis Cholowski, Parker Wotherspoon, and Paul LaDue all have at least one year remaining on their contracts and could certainly be options if the Islanders want to put their money towards adding a forward.
Netminder Semyon Varlamov is entering the final year of his four-year deal and will likley serve as the backup to Ilya Sorokin this season.
$5 million is a lot to pay an NHL backup, especially when the talented Sorokin has proven he can take the reigns and be a true no. 1. But no one should rule out the possibility that Varlamov is on the Islanders for the 2023-24 season.
If Varlamov is willing to take a 50% pay cut, the Islanders could bring him back on a one-year deal worth $2 million.
Unless the organization views 22-year-old Jakub Skarek ($764,167 AAV) as a backup option for 2023-24 or the 36-year-old veteran Cory Schneider (pending UFA, $750K AAV), the Islanders would likely have to spend $2.5 million for a Sorokin backup anyway.
Varlamov knows the group and the system, and if he shows that he can still be a solid piece of the Islanders puzzle, his return would not be a shock.
The NHL salary cap will go up $1 million for the 2023-24 season to $83.5 million, but the Islanders still will not have the means to bring all their free agents back.
Now, that’s how the Islanders are affected by the Mathew Barzal contract extension. But money aside, how important was it to the franchise to have a player that wants to be here stay?
Mat Barzal putting pen to paper on an eight-year deal shows the rest of the players in the locker room that he believes in this group and, despite a rough 2021-22 season, believes in the organization’s future. Not that the Islanders’ locker room was lacking any sort of confidence, but a player wanting to stay certainly adds a boost.
Now, the Islanders have still struggled to bring in unrestricted free agents despite a brand new arena, the elite Long Island lifestyle, and the devoted fan base. It’s not on Mat Barzal’s shoulders to convince top available players on the market to join the New York Islanders, but he certainly can help in that regard.