It was the news that Islanders fans had been anxiously waiting for. Days after training camp began and with the season set to begin on Thursday, Mathew Barzal and the New York Islanders have agreed on a three-year contract with a reported average annual value of $7 million.
According to TSN, the contract is back-loaded and breaks down this way: $4 million due this year (including a $1 million signing bonus), $7 million in year two, and $10 million in year three.
Barzal, a restricted free agent, had been a no-show since training camp began and there were concerns that the more time he missed, the worse the situation would be for the NHL club because of the shortened, 56-game season and no preseason games to prepare.
Coach Barry Trotz talked on Wednesday about how difficult it was going to be for someone to “catch up” with the season just days away.
A shorter, bridge deal like this one will make Barzal an Islander through 2023. When the deal expires, Barzal will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. A longer-term deal was less likely because of the Islanders’ cap situation and the flat cap going forward because the coronavirus pandemic has reduced revenues across the league.
General manager Lou Lamoriello had freed up some cap space by sending defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche.
It was reported that Barzal and the Islanders had been focused on a six-year extension but Lamoriello wasn’t able to move enough money around to make that work.
Barzal was in uniform as the Islanders held a scrimmage on Saturday. He was skating with Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle and scored a goal.
The Islanders were about $3.9 million under the cap before this deal was reached. But with Barzal, forward Matt Martin and defenseman Andy Greene signed, the Islanders should be able to get under the cap when the season begins by using LTIR (long-term injured reserve) for Johnny Boychuk and his $6 million cap hit.
The average annual value of Barzal’s deal puts him on a level with Lee, who carries a $7 million cap hit and larger than Brock Nelson’s $6 million cap hit.
The highest-paid player in the league is Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who has a cap hit of $12.5 million.
The 23-year-old Barzal, who was the Islanders’ first-round pick, 16th overall, in the 2015 NHL draft, was the rookie of the year in 2017-18, scoring 22 goals and accumulating 85 points.
Last season, Barzal had a team-leading 60 points with 19 goals and 41 assists. It was the third year in a row that the highly skilled and speedy center had led the team in scoring. In the playoffs, Barzal was third on the team in scoring with 17 points to trail Josh Bailey (20) and Nelson (18).
The Islanders have been busy since training camp finalizing contract situations.
Martin and the Islanders agreed to a four-year contract extension earlier. Martin’s contract carries a $1.5 million cap hit. That deal will likely keep Martin as an Islander for the rest of his career. Martin will be 36 by the time this new deal ends.
Martin’s extension, judged as lucrative by many for a role player, ruffled feathers with many Islanders fans who wondered why the Islanders hadn’t yet signed Barzal.
But Martin raised his value to the club by his performance in last season’s playoffs in which he had five goals and an assist in 22 games.
Martin, the Islanders’ 148th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft, is an integral part of the Islanders style of play for the intangibles he brings with his physical play and commitment to blocking shots.
Getting Barzal under contract was crucial for the Islanders because of the shortened season and the new divisional realignment, which puts the Islanders in the East division with the Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Buffalo and Boston.
The Islanders visit the New York Rangers for two games on Thursday and Saturday to launch the season. The top four teams in each division advance to the postseason.
The Islanders are coming off a highly successful playoff run in which they advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.