Islanders Extending Barzal Helps Team Both Now & in Future

Just days left until the 2022-23 NHL season started, the New York Islanders made the move of their offseason. General manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello extended Mathew Barzal with an eight-year deal, keeping him with the team throughout the prime of his career. Barzal was going to be a pending free agent after this season, but the deal removes that underlying fear that the star player was going to be moved or possibly leave the team at the end of the season.

Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The extension is a sigh of relief for a lot of fans and for the Islanders roster, it’s the move they needed to kickstart the upcoming season. Granted, Barzal has yet to tap into his full potential, making the $9.15 million average annual value a gamble on Lamoriello’s part. However, with the Islanders securing their top-line center, the move brings optimism that the team can win now and in the years to come.

Related: Islanders Season Preview Archives – The Hockey Writers

The Islanders are looking to rebound after missing the playoffs last year and while Lamoriello didn’t add many players to the roster, his actions spoke volumes. He re-signed many of the core players on the roster and capped off the offseason with the biggest deal of them all by coming to terms on a deal with Barzal.

Not a John Tavares Repeat

Many Islanders fans feared that Barzal’s situation would be a repeat of the John Tavares saga. Tavares, after years with the team and establishing himself as the face of the franchise, left in the 2018 offseason and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown team, on a seven-year deal. My colleague, Chris Hennessy, outlined earlier in the offseason why there wouldn’t be a repeat with Barzal, and with only a few days remaining until the opening-night puck drop, fans see the differences firsthand.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tavares always wanted to play for his hometown team. Barzal on the other hand wanted to finish his career with the team that drafted, developed, and embraced him. He was on the top line for the Islanders’ consecutive Stanley Cup Semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021 and as a crucial part of the offense looks to help the team finally get over the hump in the upcoming years. Barzal mentioned earlier in the offseason that he wanted to finish his career on Long Island and it was clear that instead of looking for a way out, he’d try to come to terms on a deal that would keep him with the Islanders. His new deal will keep him on the team through his age-33 season and when the deal expires, he will have spent 15 seasons with the team.

Islanders Have a Star to Build Around

Last season saw Barzal’s limitations as he only scored 15 goals and 44 assists as part of an offense that struggled as well. However, it’s hard to deny that he is an integral part of the offense and the team’s success. Barzal is the primary puckhandler on his line and opens up the ice for the rest of the skaters in the offensive zone. Furthermore, as a great skater, he draws opponents to him and can oftentimes, create quick scoring chances on the rush just with his skating ability.

While the Islanders have to find ways to help out Barzal, specifically, by finding him a shooter on the wing, they still have a star on their roster. Over the upcoming seasons, the Islanders have a player that they will always be able to build around. Ultimately, the deal makes the job easier for Lamoriello in the upcoming seasons as he now has to find complementary pieces to the star players on the roster rather than the elite players themselves. Additionally, with Barzal only 25 years old, he’s still improving as a player and maturing into a star, indicating that the best is still to come from him.

He might not be at the same level as some of the other elite players in the NHL, but if Barzal starts becoming a shoot-first player or a more aggressive forward in the offensive zone, his production can skyrocket. Barzal has shown throughout his career that he has the potential to become one of the best forwards to ever play for the Islanders. Now with an eight-year deal, there’s the confidence from the front office that he will become just that.

A Spark Ahead of the 2022-23 Season

The Islanders’ offseason was a quiet one, to say the least. While the team acquired Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL Entry Draft, a move that added a hard-hitting young defenseman to the roster, the signings were at a minimum. Johnny Gaudreau, arguably the best player in the free agency class, signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets while the Islanders came up short. While many thought that Lamoriello had managed to sign Nazem Kadri, another top player in free agency, he signed with the Calgary Flames late in the offseason. The lack of moves was frustrating for the fans, but also for a roster that struggled last year and needed a spark.

Lamoriello stated multiple times that his confidence in the current group of players and reiterated that confidence when he re-signed Noah Dobson, Romanov, and the rest of the Islanders’ restricted free agents on the roster. However, Barzal’s deal not only reinforces the trust in the current roster but also adds that much-needed spark ahead of the upcoming season.

Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders are entering the season with the knowledge that one of their best players is locked into a long-term deal and going to be a part of the team for the foreseeable future. The veteran-heavy roster didn’t need extra motivation for a big season after missing the playoffs, but now they got a big spark just days before season start. In a way, this was the splash that Lamoriello needed to make with the team now poised to have a big year.

Lamoriello’s Confidence in Barzal and the Core

Lamoriello stated after the extension that Barzal isn’t the face of the franchise, the Islanders logo is (an indication that it’s the team, not the player). However, he did indicate that the deal is a bet that Barzal will continue to improve and become the elite player many expect him to be. There’s confidence that he will remain a key part of the roster and more importantly, a core part of the Islanders’ success.

Barzal is now just another core player that Lamoriello has secured in recent years. Ahead of the 2021-22 season, he extended defensemen Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock to eight-year deals, with Pulock’s deal happening only days before the season started. The deals kept the Islanders’ top defensive pairing intact and kept two of their best players on the roster through the prime years of their careers.

Following the Barzal deal, the Islanders now have multiple core players that are essential to the team’s success under contract. Not only can the team compete this season for the Stanley Cup, but suddenly the championship window is open for multiple years.

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