Word leaked fairly early in the day that forward Jordan Eberle is the New York Islanders player who the Seattle Kraken would be selecting in its NHL Expansion Draft.
With Seattle’s list due to the league Wednesday morning, names like Eberle filtered out during the day (mostly from Frank Seravalli, though Eberle’s name came from multiple other reporters), but it wasn’t yet clear if and what the Islanders might’ve had to send Seattle’s way to direct them toward Eberle instead of, say, Josh Bailey.
On the surface, it shouldn’t have taken much to do that, because otherwise the Isles could’ve easily protected Bailey instead of Cal Clutterbuck or Matt Martin. (Right? Right?!) But the flat salary cap and the Islanders’ own cap issues change the variables somewhat. The Isles still need to sign several important restricted free agents, and they hope to re-sign unrestricted free agent Casey Cizikas — whose presence and chemistry makes Clutterbuck and Martin more valuable than they would otherwise be — and they’ve also professed a desire to bring back trade deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri.
Cap space is incredibly valuable, especially in today’s NHL. But if the Isles had to ‘sweeten’ the idea of taking Eberle with a pick, that’s just bad asset management. He’s a really good player, and a team should have to pay to get him, not be paid to take him. https://t.co/sBLdUmgai7
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) July 21, 2021
Either way, after clearing out a little over $10 million in cap room with the trade of Nick Leddy ($5.5 million cap hit, though they took half of Richard Panik’s cap hit back in the trade) and the defenestration of Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million), the Islanders now clear $5.5 million more with Seattle’s claim of Eberle. Arthur Staple figured their current space at $17.6 million, plus more eventual room to exceed the cap by $6 million again with Johnny Boychuk’s LTIR).
Eberle is signed for three more years and has been a productive scorer lined up next to Mathew Barzal. Across four seasons he scored 76 regular season goals, plus 13 more and 21 assists in 49 playoff games. Was he streaky? Yes, as most scorers are. Was he productive and a game-changer? Also yes.
He’ll need replacing, and it’s hard to see where equal production can be acquired for less than his cap hit, but the Isles may have their eyes on a perceived upgrade, plus Palmieri, a reallocation of their cap, or even a completely different approach to the Barzal line. Anders Lee is customarily on Barzal’s other wing, but he’ll be returning from a knee injury that required surgery and ended his 2020-21 season, so it may be a while if/when he’s back to his pre-injury form.
Much is still in flux as the Isles look to refine their 2021-22 roster. They clearly determined they needed to shed another $5 million to feel comfortable, and with Eberle’s term carrying over three years in a still-flat cap world, his departure maximizes future flexibility in that sense.
Now it’s a question of what the Isles do with this newfound space.