The Islanders won’t lose another superstar center if they have anything to say about it.
Star center Mathew Barzal’s contract will expire at the end of the 2019-20 season — if or when it resumes as the North American sporting world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to subside.
The 22-year-old would become a restricted free agent — meaning the Islanders will have exclusive rights to sign him to a long-term deal — on July 1 or a possible new start date to free agency seeing as this season is being pushed back.
But that also means that teams interested in pursuing Barzal could submit an offer sheet — which is a contract submitted to restricted free agents.
If the restricted free agent signs the offer sheet, his current team has seven days to match the deal, thus keeping him. Should the current team choose not to match, the player moves on to that new team.
Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is dismissing any hope around the NHL that Barzal could be had.
“It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point,” Lamoriello said in a Q&A with fans on the team’s website. “But should [an offer sheet] happen, the answer is yes [we will match it].”
Barzal is the Islanders’ most talented offensive playmaker, recording 207 points in 234 career games over three seasons, although there have been struggles with consistently putting the puck in the back of the net.
Regardless, he is on the fast track of developing into the next Islanders’ great, an honor that was once reserved for John Tavares after nine seasons with the Islanders.
While it was under different circumstances, Tavares opted not to sign an extension with the Islanders before becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1 of 2018. That very same day, he signed a seven-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Islanders will have approximately $12.6 million in cap space to work with this offseason and Barzal is not the only notable young player that needs a new contract.
Two key defensemen, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews, would also become restricted free agents this summer — meaning Lamoriello will have to perform some financial gymnastics to fit those three new contracts on the payroll while finding other upgrades around the market.
Keeping Barzal, Pulock, and Toews is the plan for now, at least, as Lamoriello said that “we have every intention to sign all three.”