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You’ve all heard of the term “cap space.” For the Islanders, until their arena problems are solved and/or ownership decides it’s okay to lose millions of dollars more, there is a more appropriate term. Call it “cap floor space.” Or to quote the title of a Paul Simon song, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
While teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and countless other NHL franchises manage to stay just under the salary cap of around $57 million – with varying degrees of on-ice success – the Islanders need to have their eye on the cap floor of $40 million. Sometimes, that extra $17 million doesn’t get you a whole lot more.
Of course, one of these days, the Islanders will have to spend more competitively. Being a “consistent contender” is costly, even if you build through draft picks. If all those high first round draft picks pan out, it’s going to get expensive around here.
The Islanders do not need to come close to the salary cap to become a much better team. They have plenty of “cap floor space.” Andy Sutton is gone. If he returns, it will have to be for less than $3 million a season. (Of course, Andy said he would welcome a return. Why would he rule out a competitive bid? Why would he rule out the Islanders, the one team that may love him more than any other?)
Sutton’s $3 million is in play. Prior to the opening of the free agent market on July 1, the decisions should be simple on the Islanders’ pending UFAs:
Doug Weight ($2 million)
Martin Biron ($1.4 million)
Jon Sim ($1 million)
Richard Park ($800,000)
Freddy Meyer ($600,000)
Tim Jackman ($550,000)
If they haven’t already, the Islanders should sincerely thank these terrific gentlemen for their contributions to the franchise on and off the ice. There is not a single player on the list who you cannot say gave everything they had.
However, none of them are in the category of must-bring-back before July 1. Therefore, you tell them they should pursue all of their options and leave the door open. When general manager Garth Snow is done with his top priority – adding skill and size at forward and defense – there’s no reason why he would not take a call from any of their agents. A return of one or two of the above (in this view, Meyer is the best return on investment as a low-cost 6-7 defenseman) is certainly not out of the question.
Respectfully wiping the slate clean provides Snow with all the options he needs to make his team better, all the way staying true to the slow and steady rebuild. Having Sutton’s 3 mill plus an additional 6 mill from his other UFAs gives Snow plenty of dough to play with. Ending the Jeff Tambellini experiment – or whatever the heck you want to call what went on last season – gives him a few more bucks. Although they will probably have to pay him one way or the other, some (a buyout) or all (a year in Bridgeport) of Brendan Witt’s final season will also come off the cap.
If Snow brings back restricted free agents Sean Bergenheim (maybe) and Rob Schremp (almost definitely), it won’t cost much. The only RFA due for a big raise is Matt Moulson, and Snow holds most of the cards in that negotiation this summer.
So if Snow wants to work on a long-term deal with friend/agent Allan Walsh for Phoenix’s 26-year-old mobile and steady 6-2 shutdown dman Zbynek Michalek, the Islanders can be as financially competitive as any team.
Snow has the available cash to meet agent Jay Grossman’s price for 27-year-old, hard-hitting defender Anton Volchenkov - with more upside than Sutton, and eight years younger. Dan Hamhuis? Dennis Seidenberg? Well within the budget.
Understatement of the year goes to Coach Gordon at the season finale: “We could use some size.” In the NHL, size can be bought.
Offense (and a countryman for Petrov) in Alexander Frolov? Playmaking and goal-scoring in second-liners Matthew Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, Maxim Afinogenev? No problem. Bring home Eric Nystrom or enlist the muscle and leadership of Shawn Thornton? Drops in the bucket.
A trade with the Flyers or Blackhawks or Capitals? Certainly not out of the question.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Marleau? Okay, this is where the discussion ends. Not happening.
This is the offseason Snow has planned for, the one Gordon has been waiting for to fill the holes. (It’s like Coach D’Antoni, just on a different playing field). The Islanders are in strong position to pick from column A-, B+, B and C, and grab one of each if they so desire. Since ticket prices have been raised and Charles Wang now benefits from taking over the Coliseum, the Islanders could spend around $5 million above the salary cap floor – more than enough to address their needs on the ice.
Reminds me of the couple of weeks I worked with Neil Smith. Prior to July 1, Neil asked for a fax machine to be installed in his office. He wanted to sign Mike Sillinger and Tom Poti, and Ted Nolan requested Brendan Witt and Chris Simon. “Here’s how it works,” said Neil. “You target your priorities. You ask the agent what he wants. If you really want the guy, you give him what he wants and send it through the fax. If he gets another offer and wants more, you put another fax through the machine. It’s not rocket science.” Except for Aaron Ward, who got an extra year from the Rangers, Neil signed every player the staff targeted.
Nothing, not even the creaky old arena, would stand in the way of any of the players projected above from signing with the New York Islanders.
The bottom line is…well, the bottom line. Even if the Islanders just use their salary cap floor space, they should be able to make the moves necessary to get into the playoffs next season – all the while staying within the philosophy of the rebuild. Just as importantly, prospects would not have to be rushed.
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