As the New York Islanders offseason continues, fans have seen changes on the roster with the possibility of more moves to come. With the Islanders projected cap hit of $67,428,976 and the NHL cap ceiling at 73 million, the Islanders are left with roughly 5.5 million dollars. There are still a few restricted free agents that need to be resigned and that will decrease the cap space even more. Can anyone remember the last time the Islanders were this close to the ceiling? Nope. That’s because Islanders fans are used to being roughly 5.5 million away from the cap floor, just another reason to emphasize that the rebuild is over. However the Islanders are now in a bit of uncharted waters. They’re not trading for former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas just to make the cap floor, there a few contracts that fans want shopped and apparently the Islanders are trying to do the same. Fans and management agreeing on something? Last time that happened was in June of 09. One of those contracts belongs to Mikhail Grabovski, someone many feel is overpaid and cannot stay healthy because of injuries, nor produce to the level of a 5 million dollar contract. First, let’s get the cap at a closer definitive number and then we can look at three scenarios the Islanders have with Grabovski during the season.
If we wanted to play arm-chair GM you can send Adam Pelech down to the minors since he’s on a two-way contract and now the Isles are roughly at 6.425 million under the cap. For the sake of this article, let’s say the Isles resign the following players to one-way contracts and they’re with the club at the start of the season: Mayfield, Strome, Berube and Quine. I’m going to be generous and guess those four players will come close to 3.5 million dollars to resign, with Strome being the one to watch. So that leaves the Islanders with roughly 2.9 million remaining or 70.1 million dollars. We’ll call this the “current” cap hit. That doesn’t leave much for any free agent signings, but the Isles would be a full roster. So once again let’s take a look at the forwards and see where everyone is (nothing specific, just go along with me):
So let’s do the three scenarios for Grabovski. First, Grabovski is healthy at the start of the season. Where are you putting him in the lineup? Would the Islanders send Quine down to Bridgeport at the risk of losing him to waivers from another team in a rebuild like the Devils and take him? I’m betting they won’t. Even then we’ve only made Grabovski a 13th forward. Do you switch him with Prince and Prince becomes the 13th forward? Could happen, but after Prince’s performance in the playoffs (Quine as well) would the Islanders want to do that? Do we really want to see Ryan Strome play right-wing again with Grabovski and Kulemin? We know both want to play center and that may have issues as the season progresses. Depending on the mood of the fans, Grabovski could switch with Bailey and have Bailey as the 13th forward. But is he a top 6 forward? Not at this point. Personally, I’d rather have Bailey with Lee and Nelson then Grabovski. Lesser of the two evils. The point is this, even if he’s healthy to start the season, is there really a place for him?
The second scenario is that he’s getting better, but is not yet ready to start the season. If he could be ready by the end of October or less than 10 games in then the Islanders can just put him on the injured list. However the Islanders will still be flirting with the cap ceiling, something that’s very uncharacteristic of Garth Snow. If injuries occur, it leaves little room for him to make trades and the Islanders would have to rely on the younger prospects in Bridgeport who are probably not yet ready for the NHL.
The third and last scenario is that Grabovski cannot play well into the middle of the season or even later and the Islanders could place him on the Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Now this is where he can affect the Islanders cap ceiling. Grabovski has a cap of 5 million dollars. If he is unable to play, his contract cannot simply vanish. Instead, the Islanders would be allowed to increase their own cap by 5 million dollars. Notice I wrote their cap, not the NHL cap ceiling. Most people get this part confused because when you put a player in LTIR, they believe you add that players cap to the NHL ceiling no matter what. You don’t because you still have to pay the player. So if no transactions are made between now and the start of the season, besides an uproar from fans, the Islanders will begin the season roughly 2.9 million dollars under the NHL 73 million cap ceiling. After placing Grabovski on the LTIR, the Islanders would be adding 5 million to their “current” cap hit of 70.1 million dollars (75 million) and they would have roughly 7.9 million dollars in space to work with (5 million plus the 2.9 in space they started the season with). Here’s the catch: If Grabovski is healthy and ready to go, he’s taken off LTIR and the Islanders must shed enough salary to get under the NHL 73 million dollar cap ceiling.
Only the Islanders really know what the playing status of Mikhail Grabovski is. We may not know until the season starts, but let’s review the first scenario: what if he’s healthy and ready to play? Where do the Islanders put him? Does he have any kind of trade value? Could we see another Michael Grabner trade in which the Isles see a bunch of AHL/ECHL players come back in return for Grabovski? Could the trade include Isles picks/prospects just to get his contract moved? Would the Isles do that?
The point is this, the Isles are not done wheeling and dealing and it may very well go into the season. There are at least four players, including Grabovski, who have been rumored not to be on the Islanders to start the season: Josh Bailey, Jaro Halak, and Nikolai Kulemin. Last year, the trade was Michael Grabner for a bunch of prospects. Who will be gone first this year? I don’t think it will be Grabovski. My conspiracy theory: I think the Isles will make a trade (maybe two) to get as close to, but under the NHL cap ceiling and they’ll put Grabovski on the LTIR once the season starts. That way, they have more than enough space so that they can make another move during the season if need be. Welcome to the summer!