The Islanders have a lot of work to do off the ice in order to put a formidable group together on the ice. It all starts with re-signing John Tavares.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
The New York Islanders have a lot of work to do next summer. With nine UFAs, plus a couple notable RFAs, and having missed the playoffs last season, the Islanders are at a crossroads.
And that makes projecting a roster for the 2019-20 season a little difficult. The Isles only have seven NHL regulars under contract come 2019-20, and the 23rd-ranked prospect pool, according to Future Watch. So GM Garth Snow needs to sit down with his capologist and start crunching numbers.
Obviously the biggest question mark going forward is the future of John Tavares. He’s eligible for free agency next July and will likely command a salary of over $10 million per year. He’s also vital to any hopes the Islanders have of remaining competitive in the near future.
Tavares speculation has been rampant in the media for nearly a year, but for the purposed of this exercise – we’re predicting he will re-sign. Remaining with the Islanders gives Tavares the most possible term (eight years) and probably the most money given their cap situation (more on that below). Combine that with hockey players’ sometimes-misplaced sense of loyalty, and you can put JT down for an eight-year deal worth well over $80 million.
That’s the first domino that needs to fall. To fill out this roster the Islanders also need to make tough decisions on the likes of UFAs Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, Nikolay Kulemin, Calvin De Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Jaroslav Halak.
We crunched some numbers using the CapFriendly.com team builder, predicted an increased salary cap of $79 million, predicted some new contract terms, considered team needs, and came up with the following:
IN: Lee, Eberle, De Haan
OUT: Bailey, Kulemin, Hickey, Halak
Here’s a closer look at the methodology and numbers.
With that all out of the way, we can get on with process of team building and projecting. With Tavares back in the fold, the Isles are deep down the middle. Mathew Barzal, the eighth-ranked prospect in all of Future Watch, should be an NHL regular this season and hitting his prime in 2019-20. Kieffer Bellows and Michael Dal Colle should be ready for prime time, too.
It will be a veteran defense corps led by Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and De Haan, but with Travis Hamonic now gone, Ryan Pulock will get regular time and start coming into his own.
In goal, the Islanders are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ilya Sorokin from the KHL. Still just 22, Sorokin was the KHL’s goalie of the year in 2015-16 and could be the Islanders No. 1 goalie as soon as he arrives in the NHL. His KHL contract situation could complicate his arrival in North America given he just extended his deal through 2019-20. But those deals can be broken or often have out clauses. If his NHL debut is delayed, Linus Soderstrom is another highly-rated goalie prospect who could take his place.
GOT IT: Centers. Tavares is one of the Top 20 players in the league, and with Barzal, Brock Nelson (a 20-goal scorer), and Casey Cizikas behind him, the Isles are set at the most important position on the ice. If Sorokin lives up to his billing, they may also be set in goal for a long time.
NEED IT: Players under contract. Again, this projected roster is hypothetical (and mostly meant for fun and to display team depth). But seriously, Snow has a lot of work to do. If he isn’t already working on extensions for a lot of these players, he should be. The more of them that make it to July 1, the more likely they are to walk in free agency. Tavares needs to be signed as soon as legally possible – don’t let it turn into a Stamkos Watch situation. The Andrew Ladd contract will start to look like a real anchor in a few years.
CAP WATCH: As it stands, there are only seven players under contract in 2019-20 for a little over $29 million combined. But add $10-or-more million for Tavares alone, and it becomes clear the Isles will be right up against the cap in order to make the above team a reality. For this exercise we’ve re-signed four pending UFAs and six RFAs. Can the Isles get all that done for around $80 million?
BOTTOM LINE: If the prospects pan out and Tavares sticks around this is a pretty decent team on paper. Getting it actually on to the ice will be easier said than done.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils
Up next: New York Rangers