The 2020-21 season has officially ended for the New York Islanders at the hands of the defending champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After a painful exit, the team now shifts its focus to what should be an interesting and busy offseason. The team has a number of UFA’s (Unrestricted free agents) and RFA’s (restricted free agents) to deal with this summer. Our writing team decided to play General Manager and discuss what to do with the current crop of free agents in our first edition of the “Sign ’em, let ’em walk, or trade ’em” segment.
Sign him, let him walk, or trade him: Casey Cizikas
James Nichols: Sign ’em
The motor that revs the engine of the Islanders should remain on Long Island. Lamoriello didn’t sign Matt Martin to an extension without a plan to keep his line mate and best friend around. The “Identity Line” is part of what makes the Isles so deep. There are ways to move money around, possibly starting with Leo Komarov. If you move him, replace the cap hit with Cizikas. Something around 3×3 or 3×3.5 should work. If he loves the Islanders as much as he says he does, he’ll take a hometown discount.
Rob Taub: Sign ’em
Keep him, IF he’s willing to take a hometown discount. The team doesn’t have that many heart and soul guys that do all the things he does on a nightly basis.
Sal Farieri: Sign ’em
Cizikas is easily one of the best fourth-line centers, if not the best, in the entire NHL. His five-year, $16.75-million contract is officially up and I am on board with re-signing the 30-year old Toronto native. He is an invaluable member of the organization and is the definition of Islanders hockey. He’s great at faceoffs, is one of the best penalty killers on the team, can pop in goals (52 goals in the last five regular seasons, 37 goals under Barry Trotz in 177 games), and is a great presence in the locker room.
Despite all of that, the Islanders simply can’t afford to pay higher prices for a fourth-liner, so if Cizikas is willing to take a discount that would put him in the $2.5m/$3.0m range per season, I’d bring him back for another three or four years. Sign ’em, but only for a discount.
Brooks Simpson: Sign ’em
Sign him, but no more than three years. You have to be mindful of cap concerns and player development for several years, not just one season. It’s Frans Nielsen all over again.
Carter Bentivenga: Sign ’em
It’s no secret that Cizikas has a massive amount of value when you talk about his role with the Islanders. Outside of the obvious credentials of centering the “Identity Line” and being one of the most well-liked players from his teammates and the fanbase, Cizikas is also a huge part of the Isles’ penalty-killing unit. In addition, he is also among the best the Isles have to offer when it comes to taking and winning faceoffs. Granted that list is limited, Cizikas has won around 53% of the faceoffs he’s taken over the past two seasons.
In a defensive-minded system, it might be difficult to find another center who can win draws and kill penalties the way Cizikas can. But his energy, passion for the game and positive impact on the organization can’t be replaced. It’s tough to predict the financial aspect given he’s been a big part of the Isles’ team for a long time, and even more so under Barry Trotz. That being said, Cizikas seems like a player that would take a bit of a discount to allow GM Lou Lamoriello to not only build a contender, but make changes and upgrades with the remaining cap space.
THE OT WINNER FROM CASEY CIZIKAS pic.twitter.com/gGhhuREskz
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 1, 2021
Ethan Greenberg: Sign ’em
Cizikas has not only been one of the longest tenured Isles, but also has been one of the most important. The face of the identity line is an important PKer, face off man, and overall leader in the room. The Isles should do everything in their power to bring him back. But like everything, it will come with a price. The Islanders must walk a thin line between overpaying for a fourth line center but also understanding how important Casey is to what they do. I imagine it will be hard to keep him because there is some team out there that will give him $4-$5M per year and it will be tough for the Isles to match.
Ben Mandell: Sign ’em
I think that it’s important for the Islanders to re-sign Cizikas, but make sure they don’t overpay. They’re already close to the cap and they’re paying other bottom six forwards a lot of money. If Cizikas wants to stay an Islander, he’ll always be welcome on Long Island, but the club has other needs that they will need to fill to prepare for another run at a Stanley Cup.
Matt Watling: Sign ’em
As much as the Islanders want to keep Cizikas, he is going to need to take a big discount to stay with the team that drafted him. The Blue and Orange have too many big name pieces that are irreplaceable like Beauvillier, Pelech and Sorokin. Cizikas plays a role that is very easy to fill with a $1 million player or league minimum player off the scrap heap to play 12 minutes a night and on the penalty kill.
Ultimately, I can see Cizikas taking a pay cut to stay on the island since this is where he plays his best hockey; however, I would not be surprised if a team like the Rangers overpays for that grit he brings, which might leave him no choice but to jump ship.
He did what!?!?!
Casey Cizikas with an insane goal pic.twitter.com/GdeX8vrTbo
— x – Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 12, 2021
Ryan Dunnigan: Sign ’em
Cizikas is an obvious sign him in theory, but unfortunately will take some general manager gymnastics to be accomplished. The 30-year-old is one of this team’s leaders and fits the Barry Trotz system perfectly. He’s an important player for the Isles to try and re-sign, but should not be their top priority even though he is beloved by the orange and blue faithful.
David Tuckman: Sign ’em