Ryan Pulock and the Islanders have agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract, per Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman. The two sides had a scheduled arbitration hearing for Friday.
The 26-year-old led all Islanders defenseman in scoring during the regular season with 10 goals and 35 points. Pulock was tied with the now-departed Devon Toews in scoring among their blue liners with 10 points. He plays heavy minutes and is a dependable top-pair player. He will be an unrestricted free agent when this deal expires after the 2021-22 NHL season.
With Pulock signed, this leaves Lou Lamoriello with one major unsigned restricted free agent. Mathew Barzal‘s contract will be an interesting one, especially when you look at the Islanders’ current salary cap situation.
According to Cap Friendly, the Islanders have a little more than $3.9M in space left with Barzal, who does not have arbitration rights, still out there (plus UFA Matt Martin, but there’s certainly a pecking order here). Now, $3.9M will probably not get a deal done, so it’ll be up to Lamoriello to figure out a way to free up space.
Remember, teams can exceed the cap ceiling by 10% in the offseason.
The trade route to open space after signing Ryan Pulock
Johnny Boychuk‘s name was in the rumor mill during the offseason and moving his contract, which carries a $6M AAV (but only $4M in actual salary) for the next two seasons will be tough. The 36-year-old does possess a modified no-trade clause where he can list eight teams he will accept a trade to. Even if he does waive his NTC other teams know Lamoriello needs to free up space, so a sweetener will have to be included.
Same goes for looking to move Andrew Ladd, who has three years left with a $5.5M cap hit. But moving Boychuk would be easier one would think considering the defenseman has been a regular in the lineup having suited up for 138 games over the last two seasons compared to Ladd’s 30.
Nick Leddy might be the best option. He’s 29, plays over 20 minutes a night, has hit at least 20 points in the last seven seasons, and has only two years left at a $5.5M cap hit. He also does not have any sort of trade protection. The downside, however, is his actual salary is $6.5M this coming season and $7M for 2021-22. Retaining some salary would have to come into play here.
Buyout not an appealing option
Since the Islanders and Ryan Pulock settled their arbitration case, they have unlocked a second buyout window. The window will be open beginning Friday and last 24 hours. Will Lamoriello use it if a trade partner can’t be found?
Buying out Boychuk’s final two seasons would put him on their books for the next four seasons, with 2020-21 and 2021-22 seeing a $5,166,667 cap hit stay before dropping to $416,667 in the final two years. That’s not helpful.
Same goes for a Ladd buy out, which would keep $4,833,333 on the Islanders’ cap for the next three seasons before dropping to $333,333 for the final three years. Like Boychuk, the savings wouldn’t be worth it in trying to extend Barzal.
Leddy, though, could be an option. His cap hit would stay on for four seasons but drop down to $1.25M for 2020-21 and $750,000 in 2021-22 before ballooning back up to $2.25M for the final two years.
Lamoriello is known as ‘Loophole Lou,’ and creativity will be needed to get Barzal signed at a reasonable number.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.