The reality of life in the salary cap era of the NHL is that even the best teams are unlikely to return the entirety of their core.
It’s a reality that has been accepted by Islanders president and general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who will try to pull the correct strings to keep as much of a team that made the Stanley Cup semifinals for two straight years while finding the right pieces to take that next step toward a championship.
And he has to do this all with approximately $5 million in cap space that is currently available.
“We’ll do everything we can to keep the core together. It’ll be impossible to do that with the expansion draft and free agency [this offseason],” Lamoriello admitted on Tuesday. “These will be difficult decisions. I’d rather have these decisions rather than no decisions at all.
“It is what it is. We’ll make the best decision for our team. We have to separate anything other than that. Those decisions have not been made at this point.”
Upon the Islanders’ largest question marks this summer is the future of a pair of unrestricted free agents varying in service time with the franchise, as Casey Cizikas and Kyle Palmieri face the open market.
Cizikas has been with the Islanders for a decade — the engine of a fourth line that has encompassed a gritty and tenacious team that has made significant advancements on the back of tireless work ethic.
Experiencing each end of the Islanders’ spectrum, from bottom-feeders to Cup contenders, Cizikas’ impact on the team is immeasurable — as some of his teammates went into on Sunday.
It makes retaining him a priority for Lamoriello.
“There’s no question what Casey Cizikas has brought to the team. We will do everything we possibly can to try and have him come back,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly, his set of circumstances is unique and also maybe positive because he’s a UFA and we do not have to make any decisions with [protecting him in the expansion draft].
“We will continue to talk with him. He expressed his desire to come back but we also know when you get into free agency, it’s a time for the player to make the decision for him, his family, and his future. We respect that, but we’ll do everything we can to retain Casey.”
As for the veteran Palmieri, who was acquired by the Islanders in April after a nine-plus-year career with the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils, the stop on Long Island was a homecoming for the Smithtown native; one that he said he’ll “remember forever,” before expressing a desire to return to the team.
The interest is mutual, as Lamoriello revealed.
“I have had a conversation with Kyle and I have asked him if he would want to come back if there was something that could potentially be worked out. His answer was yes,” Lamoriello said. “He knows our set of circumstances in reference to our cap and our roster. But he is also a total free agent so he is outside the expansion thought process and we potentially cannot keep every player that we have here because we can only protect so many.
“So you never know what transpires. We have an open mind — how well he fit in, how his style fit our style, and how he had success during the playoffs. He would be someone we would have a strong intention to bring back if possible.”