The American Hockey League has announced Feb. 5 as a tentative start date to their 2021 season, and long-standing word from multiple sources has been the parent league wanted to start their season on January 1. Whether or not that is plausible, we do know that playing in empty buildings (or in another bubble scenario) is not something the NHL regards as financially sustainable or feasible at the current time, given the league is heavily gate driven revenue.
Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello has always maintained that ‘when you have time, you use it,’ and he seems to have that in spades at the current moment. Never rushing into any decision, he took the first step towards solving the Islanders’ salary cap crunch when he traded arbitration-eligible defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for two draft picks.
Toews, a talented, agile puck mover who also played on the Islanders second power-play unit, signed a new contract with the Avalanche for four years and $16.4 million, with a cap hit of $4.1 million. And that still complicates things a bit for Lamoriello, who has his own restricted free agents to sign in Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock.
There was expected to be a deal involving at least one of the picks acquired for Toews and Johnny Boychuk brewing immediately in its wake, however it has not yet come to fruition. The teams that can afford such a move are dwindling, and there is a strong belief Boychuk, who maintains some control over where he’s traded, would like to stay in the area, designating the New Jersey Devils a strong possibility.
Currently, the Islanders sit with only $8.9 million in available cap space, with the aforementioned players still to sign and a gentleman’s agreement with Matt Martin to finalize. Pulock has become such a valuable member of the blue line, now even more so with Toews gone, that he and his agent identify the $4.1 million number and must be now expecting $5-$5.5 million for the budding defenseman.
So, there will be another move coming, perhaps even two, before all is said and done, keeping in mind that next season, there is an expansion draft and four players – Anthony Beauvillier, Casey Cizikas, Adam Pelech, and Ilya Sorokin – on the docket to sign to new contracts. With all that being said, it’s easier to anticipate why there will most certainly be no new addition to an offense that only outscored eight other teams last season. Those holding onto hope for Mike Hoffman or Patrick Laine will likely find themselves disappointed when the 2021 season finally drops the puck.
For now, the entire league appears in a hibernation or reset stage of sorts, reminiscent of August of years past. It doesn’t help that they have no idea when the new season will start, including training camps, or what it will even look like.
Lamoriello is content to use all the time being afforded to him right now. Let’s hope when he finally completes the moves everyone knows he needs to execute, the Islanders come out of it a better hockey team than the one who lost in the Eastern Conference Final to the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
Doesn’t sound easy to do, does it?
Follow Andy Graziano on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN