One of the more interesting RFA cases is Islanders center Mathew Barzal. He has been their leading scorer in each of his first three NHL seasons, and general manager Lou Lamoriello has publicly stated any offer sheet would be matched in an effort to dissuade other teams from even attempting to go that route. However, cap space is still a big factor, even after trading blueliner Devon Toews to Colorado and the recent announcement that Johnny Boychuk’s playing career has come to an end (making him eligible for LTIR).
Accordingly, Newsday’s Andrew Gross notes that the industry expectation for Barzal is that he will sign a bridge deal, a two-year or three-year pact around $7M per season. That would still represent a substantial raise from the $925K base pay he earned on his entry-level deal (which included his signing bonus) and give both sides a chance to re-assess the financial landscape before he reaches UFA eligibility. On top of that, it also gives New York a chance to determine if the 23-year-old is capable of getting back to his rookie-season output of 85 points or if he’s likely to check in below that as he did in the past two years when he had 62 and 60 points.
If that is indeed the route they go, there are two big questions to be answered. The first is the structure of the deal in terms of how much to backload it, particularly with the new qualifying-offer rules in place. Now, the required tender is the lower of 120 percent of the AAV or whatever the salary on the final season winds up being. Even if the AAV of this deal winds up near that $7M target, it’s quite likely that the qualifying offer will be in the $8M range.
The other is how to fit this within the cap. Yes, Boychuk is going to wind up on LTIR, but there is a timing factor at stake. If the Islanders can wait to put him there until the start of the season, they’ll have some more in-season flexibility to work with.
As things stand, they have roughly $3.9M in cap room, per CapFriendly, and that’s with a minimum-sized roster. If they want to get this deal done and be in cap and roster compliance before placing Boychuk on LTIR, there is going to have to be some roster juggling. Some high-priced veterans (such as Andrew Ladd, Thomas Hickey, and Leo Komarov) could be waived in camp and sent down, freeing up $1.075M each in cap space before having to offset that amount by a minimum-salaried recall. Expected goalie Ilya Sorokin (who is waiver-exempt) could also go down and be temporarily replaced by a lower-salaried netminder on their season-opening roster before those transactions were reversed. Even more of those moves might be required to pull that particular strategy off.
Assuming they can do so, they could utilize almost all of Boychuk’s contract in LTIR room (the cap room freed up is the amount of the contract minus existing cap space at the time of placement, not automatically the full value of the contract), and it appears that they’ve already done some of that spending. Gross adds that deals are believed to be in place for goalie Cory Schneider (which had been reported back in October), defenseman Andy Greene, and winger Matt Martin. That money can’t be committed until they get Barzal signed and Boychuk transferred with the latter move happening right at the beginning of the season. As a result, it’s probable that those veterans will be in camp on PTO deals only.
Bridge contracts are often viewed as the simple solution, but in Barzal’s case, there will be a lot of moving parts to this one with several veterans being affected by what he eventually signs for and when the deal is done.