Evaluating which Islanders free agents are most likely to be back

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The New York Islanders and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello have plenty of work to keep them occupied while they await the 2020-21 NHL season. Given the pandemic, most, if not all, of this work will have to be performed virtually, but it does not change the end game. Lamoriello and assistant general manager/cap guru Steve Pellegrini have to figure out creative ways around a salary cap crunch.

The crunch will affect many teams around the league, with the Coronavirus forcing the league to maintain a flat ceiling for the next two seasons. But, before the Islanders even can think about entertaining any free agents when the signing period opens Friday at noon, there is plenty of internal house cleaning in order.

The cagey front-office maven was cryptic once again on Wednesday’s post-draft media conference call, only offering, "We're in the same position we were last week, as far as what our intentions are. Whatever we have to get done, hopefully we will."

With that being said, or not said depending on how you look at it, let’s preview what we think the outcome will be for the Islanders off-season. For this discussion, we will not be including restricted free agents or trade targets, as the former is simply too expensive for New York’s expanding waistline and the latter too unpredictable when it comes to player availability.

(Editor’s Note: Stat lines include the player’s age, and then games played-goals-assists-points)

Mathew Barzal, RFA, 23, 234-59-148-207: The Islanders’ most dynamic forward and face of the franchise after the departure of John Tavares.
With a two-year flat cap and Barzal seemingly, and rightfully, unwilling to accept a lower AAV on a longer term, the safe bet is a three-year deal at between $7 and $8 million. Then, when the cap rises in a big way after year three, Barzal can get his money.

Ryan Pulock, RFA, 26, 234-31-77-108: Pulock has been stymied somewhat by the system he plays in, holding his offensive numbers down. However, his defensive efforts have grown by leaps and bounds, and he finds himself a true top-pair guy. Still, with no leverage, I’m guessing two years at $5 million AAV could get this done.

Devon Toews, RFA, 26, 116-11-35-46: Even though he’s 26, Toews will be entering only his third NHL season, and his second full one. The Islanders have brought him along slowly, and even with his uneven playoff bubble experience, he is a valuable second pair defenseman for this team. Smooth-skating, transitional blueliners don’t grow on trees and are extremely difficult to obtain outside of the draft. Three years at $3.5 million is my ballpark for Toews.

Matt Martin, UFA, 31, 692-61-70-131: Martin means so much to the Islanders, and it has nothing to do with 61 goals in 692 career games. He’s a leader in the locker room, one that Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz keep sacred. He’s an excellent ambassador for the organization. But, this cannot be a contract overdone. I’ll go three years at $1.5 million, the maximum.

Tom Kuhnhackl, UFA, 28, 232-18-36-54: There is no room for Kuhnhackl, who should be moving on to his third NHL club in six seasons.

Derick Brassard, UFA, 33, 852-186-297-483: Brassard has had a wonderful 13-year career and is approaching 500 NHL points. The word is Lamoriello is interested in having him back and has opened up talks. Another one-year deal could be in the cards after the Islanders have sorted out their other business.

Andy Greene, UFA, 37, 933-49-200-249: Players love him, fans love him, Lamoriello loves him. He wants to be back, and is wanted back. A one-year deal gets this done late in the window.

Thomas Greiss, UFA, 34, 282-2.63-.915: After 193 games as an Islander, Greiss will be moving onto greener pastures. He held down the fort admirably, but with Ilya Sorokin finally in the fold and nobody foreseeing Lamoriello trading Semyon Varlamov, Greiss should be wished all the best.

As far as the Islanders creating the cap space to take care of their own, you have to believe Lamoriello is hard at work trying to find takers for Andrew Ladd, Leo Komarov, Johnny Boychuk, and Nick Leddy to free up valuable finances. Whether he can get that done is another story, though, as the price for taking on bad contracts is exorbitant, almost unreasonable.

You want guys like Mike Hoffman, Anthony Duclair, Evgenii Dadonov, Tyler Toffoli, or Taylor Hall? In the Islanders’ current situation, those guys will all be unattainable come tomorrow. Not even a chance. Bobby Ryan, maybe.

If he can’t find a suitable sucker - I mean fellow general manager - the Islanders could be in trouble when it comes to merely keeping a team that lost in the Eastern Conference final together in any capacity. Forget about adding any offensive upgrades that they sorely require.

Away we go.

Follow Andy Graziano on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN

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