Over the past decade, Casey Cizikas has carved his niche as the centerpiece of the Islanders’ fourth line — referred to as the team’s “identity line” — and a fan favorite in the process.
The 30-year-old has been through all the ups and downs with an organization that is continuing its revolution of becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender every season — having made it to Game 7 of the Cup semifinals this season.
But a Game 7 loss on Friday night not only ended the Islanders’ season, but it also prompted the expiration of Cizikas’ contract as one of the most notable unrestricted free agents the organization has to address this offseason.
“I haven’t thought about it too much, personally,” Cizikas said on Sunday. “That’s a conversation for another day. I think right now, I’m just focused on being with the guys, spending these last few days before everybody heads their own way. Spend them together… that’s what I’m looking forward to right now.”
Normal circumstances would see the retention of Cizikas as a no-brainer decision. But the Islanders are a team looking to take the next step in their quest for a Stanley Cup and they have just around $5 million in cap space, per CapFriendly.com.
That makes a no-brainer a bit more difficult.
“He has my number and knows he can call me if he wants to talk. But he has his own decisions to make,” Matt Martin, Cizikas’ linemate on that fourth line, said. “I’m not going to involve myself for no reason. I think I know where his heart is and I think the team would love to have him back as well. These things get tricky. There’s a salary cap, a bunch of things going on… at the end of the day, I hope we have another opportunity with this group of guys.”
While Cizikas hasn’t put much thought into it, Martin certainly has.
“I’ve definitely thought about it. Not only from a hockey standpoint, but that’s one of my closest friends right there,” Martin said. “I think Case wants to be back, I think the team wants him back, and hopefully, it works itself out. These things seem to happen every year. It is a business… hopefully, we see him back here.”
The other member of that fourth line, Cal Clutterbuck — a winger known for his tenacity on the ice and steely reserve — took down the iron curtain to offer a glimpse of just how much it means to have Cizikas around the team.
“Casey and I have been playing together for what, nine years now? Eight years? I almost feel like he’s just a part of me as a hockey player,” Clutterbuck said. “I’ve played with the same centerman for the bulk of my career and he’s one of my best friends. He’s Casey. He can light up a room. Especially when I can be grumpy sometimes, he’s always there to be a puppy dog.
“Those things will work themselves out… it’s not something I can control… I’d love to have him with me moving forward.”