The New York Islanders were once again more than the sum of their parts in these playoffs, taking a group mostly devoid of NHL stars and coming within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s not that the team lacks talent — far from it, in fact — but the workman-like attitude that has been instilled in the group by the front office and coaching staff makes almost every player on the roster equally important.
Perhaps no player better represents that equal-importance structure than Casey Cizikas, the long-time Islander who has only scored more than 10 in a season once. In fact, Cizikas only has 81 tallies in his entire 590-game NHL career but is still considered an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle in New York. Acting as a third or fourth-line center, the 30-year-old Cizikas is a key cog in the Islanders' defensive structure and can be relied upon in almost any situation.
He’s also an unrestricted free agent this summer, coming off a five-year, $16.75M contract.
The Islanders don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, especially with new contracts due for restricted free agents like Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin, but Cizikas remains a priority. GM Lou Lamoriello told reporters Tuesday that the team will do everything they possibly can to bring the veteran center back, and that the player has also expressed a desire to stay in New York. He also hinted that a deal might not be done before the expansion draft, noting that because he is an unrestricted free agent the team doesn’t have to make any expansion considerations to keep him.
The same might not be said about Kyle Palmieri, who Lamoriello also mentioned as a player the Islanders are hoping to retain. Quite simply, New York may not be able to afford the UFA winger who was acquired at the trade deadline. As Andrew Gross of Newsday relays, the Islanders executive noted that there are “financial challenges” to the Palmieri situation, even though both sides have interest in him staying. The 30-year-old forward was outstanding for the Islanders in the playoffs, scoring seven goals in 19 games, including an overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Palmieri is coming off a deal that saw him earn $23.25M over five years though; even if the Islanders were able to get him on the same AAV, it’s a tough piece to fit in their current cap puzzle.