In the last couple of offseasons, restricted free agents (RFAs) have gained more power over their second contracts. The Toronto Maple Leafs were at the center of this power struggle when they negotiated with forwards William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Nylander held out until the end of Dec. 2018, missing nearly half the 2018-19 season, while Marner signed shortly before the start of the 2019-20 season.
Other RFAs, including Mikko Rantanen and Patrik Laine, also caused a stir, waiting until well into September before signing their contracts. As this unfolded, Islanders fans collectively held their breath, hoping their star, Mathew Barzal, could be signed and continue to be the future of the franchise.
Rumors Begin to Swirl
It doesn’t take much for the rumor mill to get going on Twitter, but throw in months of Paul Bissonnette of the Barstool Sports’ hockey podcast, Spittin’ Chiclets stirring the pot, and these things take on a life of their own. Bissonnette first mentioned this at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, with co-host Ryan Whitney commenting that Barzal was “going to take the Islanders to the cleaner.” This discussion was reignited on a recent episode of the podcast when guest and Sportsnet reporter, Elliotte Friedman, commented that he thought an offer sheet was coming for Barzal.
Friedman is a well-respected reporter, so it’s worth listening to his comments and taking them seriously. However, as he often says, “I’m not telling you the truth, I’m telling you what I heard,” something to keep in mind when dissecting this interview.
What should get Islanders’ fans blood boiling is Friedman’s comments that not only would an offer sheet be extended to Barzal, but he was open to signing one. Again, it’s important to remember, Freidman isn’t speculating here; he’s reporting on information he’s obtained on the subject. Now, it’s also ok to be aggravated with Friedman for fanning the flames on a podcast known for doing just that.
After an offseason that saw only one offer sheet, a softball from the Montreal Canadiens extended to Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s hard to believe NHL general managers have the stomach to throw a wrench into relationships with other teams. After all, there have only been nine offer sheets since 1998. At the same time, this offseason will look different amid the current COVID-19 crisis. With the season on hold, and could be canceled altogether, revenues will take a huge hit, meaning the salary cap may not make the jump that was originally reported.
This puts the Islanders in a tough position heading into the offseason, whenever that may be. In addition to Barzal, they need to sign a backup goalie (Thomas Greiss or otherwise), add at least one or two forwards via trade of free agency, and re-sign RFAs Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews – that’s a lot of players with not very much wiggle room. If there was ever a time for this situation to arise, it would be this summer.
Lamoriello Will Match Offer Sheet
Answering questions submitted by fans on Twitter, Islanders general manager, Lou Lamoriello, responded to a question about matching a potential Barzal offer sheet: “It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point, but should that happen, the answer is yes.” This should be music to Islanders fans’ ears, especially after former Isles star John Tavares left in free agency just a couple of summers ago.
When interviewed at the 2020 NHL All Star Weekend, Barzal kept things vague, as players in his situation often do: “We want to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, take a run at the Stanley Cup, and after that we’ll figure [the contract] out,” Barzal said. Considering Lamoriello’s tight-lipped front office and Barzal not wanting to speak out of school, it’s safe to say we won’t find out much about this until it happens, one way or another.
With the lack of hockey news and games, this will be in the front of Islanders fans’ minds for some time. Luckily, you can tune into the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, brought to you by The Hockey Writers, for weekly conversations about Long Island’s team. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Play.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.