Leave it to a crusty old bastard like Lou Lamoriello to make us look even stupider than we normally do. Earlier in the month, when the Hawks were on the Island, we wrote the Lou didn’t really have a place in the game today. That he would hold the Isles back at a time when they needed forward thinkers. And basically the Islanders haven’t lost since, and have shot up to the top of the Metro Division. Sure, Lou is benefitting from the bonkers goaltending the Isles have been getting as much as anyone else, but here we are.
Still, we’re curious what lies ahead for the Islanders when everything shakes down to where it’s supposed to be. And that’s most important in the case of Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, who are both free agents when this season is over.
You would think that Lee would be the type of player that if Lamoriello were going to pay anyone, it would be him. He’s a true power forward, who put up 74 goals the past two seasons and is on pace for another 30 this year. Sure, he’s gotten to play with John Tavares for most of last year. But this year it’s been him and Nelson together, under the top line of Barzal. He scores where he goes.
The problem is that Lee is still a premier goal-scorer, and those guys get paid. And at the moment, Lee is making $3.7M against the cap, or just $700K more than Lou gave Leo Komarov. So yeah, he’s going to get a raise. And a big one. And the Isles have the cap space, with about $35 million for next year unclaimed. Lee’s 92 goals the past three seasons are ninth most in the league, more than Marchand, Skinner, and Kane. Marchand signed recently for a very team-friendly $6.1 million, and his linemate Pastrnak at $6.6M. That’s probably the number Lee has circled.
Nelson has been a pretty consistent second-line center for the Isles this year. With Barry Trotz upping the amount of times Barzal starts in the offensive zone from last year, it’s Nelson who has had to take on harder responsibilities. It hasn’t clipped his scoring at all, as he’s on pace to break his career-high of 45 points and possibly tickle his high in goals too 0f 28. Teams still need to be built down the middle, and a second-center like Nelson aren’t something you can pick up at the bodega.
And Lou has to keep in mind that no matter what he does, Barzal is going to be looking for a contract out of his entry-deal starting on July 1st. And he’s going be more in the $8-9M category than the $6-7M one.
The thing is, we can’t remember Lou ever paying someone that premium. Zach Parise walked out of New Jersey after banking about $3M a year out of his entry deal. He got a one-year deal at $6M when he was still restricted, but then headed to Minnesota for the real money. In Toronto Lou signed Patrick Marleau, but that of course was the aging veteran he could trust. It’s probably not a coincidence that Lou was moved along before it came time to negotiate with Nylander and Matthews. Lou has openly mocked the money that players make already, but someone has go to attract the residents of Long Island to that new arena in Belmont, right?
It’s a strange landscape in the Metro. The Jackets are about to be stripped of their two biggest talents. The Penguins and Capitals are at least on the back nine. The Flyers and Rangers are in rebuilds, and remain the Flyers and Rangers. The Devils are rebuilding as well. Splash a little cash, a shrewd move here or there, and there’s no reason the Islanders can’t fill the vacuum quickly. But has that ever been Lou’s way?
Game #51 Preview Suite