Most league-wide analysts have the New York Islanders’ cap sheet ranked among the worst in the league. Long-term deals to Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas look like poor value after they both had tough seasons offensively. That being said, some outstanding value contracts on the Islanders still provide them with the depth that makes them a playoff contender.
Adam Pelech / Ryan Pulock
We are going to count these contracts as one because Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock operate as a defensive unit that provides phenomenal value for the Islanders. When both players are healthy, this duo is one of the best defensive pairs in the league for an annual price of $11.9 million. Last summer, some of the best defensemen in the league signed massive contracts including Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, Cale Makar, and Darnell Nurse. Each of those contracts came in over $9 million annually. When you add those players’ salaries with their defensive partners, it is higher than the $11.9 million dedicated to the Islanders’ top pair.
Both of these players are signed through their entire primes, with Pelech’s contract expiring after 2029 and Pulock after 2030. After losing Devon Toews, it was important for the front office to retain the two homegrown defensemen and they took care of that business last summer. While Barry Trotz is not the coach anymore, Lane Lambert has been his assistant for years and will likely run a similar system to what Trotz did. That will put a lot of pressure on the back end and these two have shown they are up to the challenge over the past four seasons.
Brock Nelson signed his extension with the team in the summer of 2019. A lot of contracts signed then, including Anders Lee’s, have not aged well due to the flat cap being implemented. However, Nelson’s has just become better value over the years. Despite an early-season injury, he put up a career year in 2021-22 with 37 goals in 72 games. He was particularly valuable on the power play with 11 goals, which was also a career-high.
According to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, Nelson performed to a market valuation of $8.9 million in the 2021-22 season despite earning $6 million (from ‘NHL Player Cards: New York Islanders’, The Athletic, 4/19/22). This has provided exceptional value for the Islanders that has allowed them to keep important depth pieces such as Cal Clutterbuck and Zach Parise. While he is not a guarantee to score 35 goals again, he provides the offensive spark that can carry the defensively sound team through stretches of the regular season.
Nelson’s linemates are certainly up in the air, as he will end up with the wingers that do not land on Mathew Barzal’s wing. He has played well with Anthony Beauvillier in the past and they are expected to be paired together once again. No matter who he plays with, the expectations will be higher than they have ever been going into the 2022-23 season.
Ilya Sorokin, the white whale of Islanders fandom, has finally come over from Russia and made the impact Islanders fans were hoping he would from the start. He was a significant reason why they even had a prayer at the playoffs last year, and if not for him the season would have been much worse. He was given a contract after his first season with the team in 2021, paying him $4 million for three seasons.
In 2021-22, Sorokin provided $6.4 million of value to the team, compared to Semyon Varlamov’s $3.4 million performance. On other teams in the league, we have seen massive goaltender contracts restrict a team’s ability to make other moves. Sergei Bobrovsky’s $10 million cap charge made the Florida Panthers give up both of their pending free agents for a price-controlled option in the Matthew Tkachuk trade earlier this summer. The Islanders need to be putting together great seasons with Sorokin still at $4 million because when his contract is up, he might well be north of $6 million for the rest of his career. Regardless, he is one of the most important players on the team and now that he is finally making an impact, there will be Vezina Trophy expectations placed on him going forward.
Other Contracts with Good & Bad Value
There are many contracts on the Islanders’ cap sheet that are not aging well in the flat-cap era. The Josh Bailey contract is near the top of that list, with his $5 million payday through 2024 implying a better output than he has given the team in his career with zero 20-goal seasons. Despite that, general manager Lou Lamoriello has gotten some decent value out of the players he has signed since he took over the team, highlighted by the ones above.
Next year, this exercise could, and probably should have the two young defensemen that were just signed high on the list. Noah Dobson inked a 3-year deal worth $4 million per season despite playing close to a $7.9 million valuation last season. And Alexander Romanov came in at a $2.5 million annual value, leaving plenty of room to exceed that number in the future.
The good news for the Islanders is that two of their worst contracts in terms of market value in Varalmov and Bailey will be up by the end of 2024. Varlamov not only has had his playing time stripped by Sorokin but has looked poor in his performances when he does get the chance to play. It would not be surprising, however, if another team gave him a chance to be the starter, so that cap hit should clear entirely after this season, leaving one of the Islanders’ prospects to take the reins as the backup. As for Bailey, it would be shocking if he left the Island of his own volition. If the team trades him, that’s another story, but expect him to re-sign at a much lower average annual value after the 2024 season if he is still in the Orange and Blue.
My name is Chris Hennessy, welcome to my page! I am a recent graduate of Fordham University and WFUV where I covered the Islanders for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons. The experience of being in the Coliseum and UBS ignited my love for storytelling, especially about my favorite team.