With the New York Islanders training camp approaching, the biggest cause for concern is unsigned, restricted free agent center Ryan Strome. There has been a team policy in place for over a decade that if restricted free agent players are not signed by the start of training camp, they will not be playing the season for the Islanders. This has happened to three notable players: Brad Isbister, Zdeno Chara, and Sean Bergenheim. The first two called then majority owner Charles Wang’s “bluff” and they did not start the season with the Isles because of their contract hold-outs. The reason why they were brought back during the season was because it was the first year it was implemented and Wang cut them a break. The same could not be said for Bergenheim, who spent the year over in Europe. The most recent player to cut it close was Brock Nelson last year when he signed at the start of camp. Does Strome really want to sit out? The obvious answer is no. So what’s the hold up?
Is it money? How much is he worth? Is he worth an annual average salary of 2.5 million like Brock Nelson? Some would say no, not after last seasons performance. However if you look at what the Rangers offered center/right-wing Mika Zibanejad (a two-year bridge contract worth 2.625 in cap hit) it’s very possible Strome’s agent is requesting that amount. Both were drafted in 2011 and Zibanejad was drafted right after Strome. In 281 career NHL games, Zibanejad scored 151 points good for a point percentage of.537. In Strome’s 189 games played in the NHL, he’s amassed 96 points and is good for .507 percent. This was also coming off a down year for Strome where he was not playing in his natural position, center, during most the regular season. A mistake the Islanders later admitted to making.
“Probably to our own fault in handling Ryan, he was drafted as a center, I personally believe he’s most effective as a center. But the way our team is built … we really didn’t have the opportunity to play him for extended periods of time at center. With the loss of Frans Nielsen in free agency I think you’re going to see Ryan Strome do the things he did two seasons ago.”
Could it be the length of the contract? It’s possible. Maybe the Isles are only offering a two-year deal and Strome’s camp is looking for more term. Maybe it’s the other way around. This to me would be the only sticking point. Strome is 23 years old so anything more than 3 years and he’ll hit unrestricted free agency when the contract is completed. If the Isles and Strome do a bridge deal, he’ll still be restricted, but Strome may be eligible for arbitration.
Here is another issue that Ryan Strome faces with not signing a contract before the start of camp: Mathew Barzal. With strong rumors (nothing official from the Islanders…yet) coming out that center Mikhail Grabovski may not even play this year, there’s room at that position if Strome decides to hold out for the year and even though it is early, there are indications Barzal could make the team out of camp and possibly play second line center behind John Tavares.
There was also Islanders assistant GM & coach Doug Weight, like many of us, believe Strome is ready to take that next step and become a major reason in the Islanders improvement this season. So Strome would only be hindering himself as a player, like Bergenheim did, if he misses out on a golden opportunity in his playing career.
The last reason Strome has not signed a contract yet may simply be that he is not in New York and when he arrives, will sign his new contract and Islanders fans can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all done and over with. For me, Strome not having signed yet was never a concern this past summer because I believe he will be on the ice. If he isn’t? Hello Mathew, welcome to the team and what can you do for the Islanders?
Apparently I’m not alone on this thought either:
— Brian Compton (@BComptonNHL) September 16, 2016