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New York Islanders’ June Primer: RFA Edition

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Kyle MacLean, who was an afterthought prior to this season, now figures in to the Islanders' cap crunch.

The New York Islanders cap situation is pretty compromised, with only a hair over $7 million in space before anyone has re-signed. 

The cap makes Jean-Gabriel Pageau, along with his $5 million cap hit, extremely expendable. Could Anders Lee and his gaudy $7 million be shipped away? It’s possible, but I don’t see it happening.

Yesterday at NYI Hockey Now, we reviewed all matters involving the UFAs within the organization. In our world, Mike Reilly and Robert Bortuzzo were brought back at the expense of Sebastian Aho, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin. 

Who are the RFAs?

That brings us to today’s discussion, which is all about the RFA’s, who stays and who goes. The RFAs are cut and dry compared to the UFAs, as most RFAs usually stick around, with some exceptions. For the Islanders, the list of RFAs is just five players, and they are forwards Simon Holmstrom, Ruslan Iskhakov, Kyle MacLean, Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Dennis Cholowski.

The RFAs likely all stick around, except Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom’s struggles are well documented, and it’s time for both sides to move on. Chowloski may move on, but with the open depth positions in the Islanders’ depth chart, it would be more prudent for him to stay. He would almost assuredly be the Islanders’ first call-up in case of emergencies on a two-way deal.

Holmstrom had a strong enough season, scoring 15 goals and 25 points. However, his underlying analytics show that his defensive play leaves something to be desired. Under Lane Lambert, Holmstrom and Pageau made up a shorthanded duo that either scored a goal or got scored on. That resulted in Patrick Roy, upon his arrival, taking Holmstrom off the Islanders’ pathetic penalty kill. 

Holmstrom also shot 20.9% on the season, a number that just won’t be matched this next season. That’s not to say he won’t produce as much—he very well could. He has to find another gear to generate more shots and opportunities for himself and his line instead of being caught in the zone defensively, which was the case too much last season. 

All things considered, I could see a short bridge deal here, with a ceiling of two years at $2.25 million per season. It’s possible that it could and maybe should come in underneath that figure.

What about the new guys?

MacLean was a midseason call-up with about as much fanfare as expected for a 25-year-old undrafted player. But he quickly asserted himself with a tenacious work ethic that saw him capture a roster spot and win over the fanbase. MacLean had four goals and nine points in 32 games. 

MacLean’s contract likely comes in similar to Hudson Fasching’s a year ago—two years at the league minimum ($775k) but a one-way deal. This gives MacLean some added protection against being sent down, as the Islanders would risk losing him to waivers.  

Iskhakov became the third piece of the 2017 Travis Hamonic trade to debut for the Islanders in game 82 and had NHL speed and skill. His size, only at 5’8, continues to be a moderate concern, but his speed endears him to Patrick Roy’s system. Iskhakov likely gets a similar deal to Kyle MacLean, but with his upside, it’s more likely he will only sign for one season at the league minimum. 

Where does that leave the Islanders?

Yesterday, we speculated potential Reilly and Bortuzzo extensions coming in at about $2 million combined. Those potential deals drop the Islanders to just a hair above $5 million in space. Doing the math, with Holmstrom at $2.25 and MacLean and Iskhakov rounded to about $1.55 million. That leaves the Islanders with just about $1.2 million in space. 

That simply isn’t enough to conduct business and take this team where it needs to go. Team President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello knows this to be the case, and there will be movement. Standing pat won’t cut it this summer. Especially not when there seems to be plenty of talent available that could immediately improve the Islanders.