Mathew Barzal and Lou Lamoriello have both said this week that they want to reach a deal on a contract extension for the Islanders’ star center. Until one comes, however, questions will continue to hang over the Islanders.
“Hopefully, there’s still two weeks before the season and we can hammer something out,” Barzal said Thursday, following the first practice of training camp, when asked why an extension had yet to materialize. “I’m not really worried about it, just cause my heart’s here and I know we’ll get something fair. Something both sides will be happy about.”
Though Barzal, 25, repeatedly has publicly stated his desire to remain on Long Island, this is not expected to be a repeat of the John Tavares situation a few years back. For starters, Tavares was an unrestricted free agent in 2018; Barzal is a restricted free agent. Though he could in theory sign a bridge deal that would take him into unrestricted free agency at age 27 or make clear to the Islanders that he wishes to be traded, as Matthew Tkachuk did with the Flames this summer, that does not seem to be in the cards.
Barzal heaped praise on Lamoriello just days after the general manager called himself Barzal’s “biggest fan” at a team golf event. Though there is always a degree of question until pen hits paper, the sentiment from both sides seems genuine.
“I think the greater thing about here is having Lou, there’s always respect,” Barzal said. “There’s never bashing. There’s never you’re worth this or that. It’s always fair, it’s always honest. When you have that mutual respect, I think you always want to go run through a wall for a guy like that.”
He added that, when he’s older, he hopes to take lessons he has learned from Lamoriello into a management role.
As for the situation in front of him, if the Islanders cannot hammer out a deal with Barzal and his representative, J.P. Barry, before the season starts on Oct. 13, he has no issues negotiating during the season.
“I’m open to anything,” Barzal said. “I’m not really a superstitious guy when it comes to that kind of stuff. When it comes, it comes. I’m not too worried about it. I don’t go home and pace around all day thinking about it.”
The expectation is that Barzal, who tied for the Islanders’ lead with 59 points last season, will get a raise from his current deal, priced at $7 million average annual value. Recent contracts for Sebastian Aho ($8.46 million AAV), Aleksander Barkov ($10 million AAV) and Brayden Point ($9.5 million AAV) set reasonable comparisons for Barzal.
Last season, however, a disappointing output for Barzal, who struggled to mesh with his linemates all season, leading the Islanders to unsuccessfully deploy a series of combinations. During the first day of camp, Barzal skated with Zach Parise and Simon Holmstrom, though new head coach Lane Lambert stressed that those lines were merely a starting point.
“He pushes the play and he pushes the pace,” Lambert said of Barzal. “He needs a guy who can work well with him in terms of work ethic and things like that.”
Barzal said he wants to be more consistent, and that he feels at times like a member of the NHL’s elite and at other times like he gets thrown off his game.
“I want to emphasize my backchecking, I want to emphasize distributing pucks,” he said. “Seeing the higher guys in the NHL, they always lead those categories. I want to be a part of that group.”
That would indeed earn Barzal the sort of numbers he surely desires.
Defenseman Bode Wilde, who was exiled to Sweden last year after refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19, will not attend training camp, per the team. The Islanders are figuring out an assignment for Wilde this season. … The Islanders will lose their 2023 third-round pick to the Coyotes, which they conditionally traded in the Andrew Ladd deal. Ladd reportedly failed his physical and will go on IR.