The New York Islanders have a busy summer ahead and got the ball rolling by signing their fourth-line center to a long-term contract. The club announced Casey Cizikas has signed a five-year extension worth a reported $16.75 million.
The new deal represents a massive annual raise for Cizikas who made $1.2 million in actual salary last season. He'll now take up $3.35 million in cap space, up $2.35 million from last season. Cizikas is one of those heart-and-soul players that tend to endear themselves to coaching staffs and front offices, but that's a lot of money and term to hand a guy that averaged 12:43 of ice time per game last season.
In 80 games last year, Cizikas put up 29 points, which represented a career high. Over portions of five NHL seasons, the 25-year-old center has 82 points in 290 games. He was also credited with 158 hits and 62 blocked shots last season while playing alongside Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. The trio provided a lot of energy and physicality, which is a big part of the Islanders' game. GM Garth Snow called Cizikas "an invaluable piece to our lineup."
The Islanders are buying up multiple years that Cizikas would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency, which usually tends to up the annual average. The question becomes, however, if this money is being allocated to maximize the value of the roster.
It's not a massive contract in general terms, but it's ahead of what you'd expect most fourth-line centers to make. Consider that these players are contract comparable to Cizikas now:
Casey Cizikas (5 yr @ $3.35M) comparables— General Fanager (@generalfanager) June 2, 2016
Eakin 4 yr 3.85M
Lee 4 yr 3.75M
Turris 5 yr 3.5M
Eller 4 yr 3.5M
Among them is Cizikas' much more productive teammate Anders Lee and top-six center Kyle Turris who was only a year younger at the time of his contract signing as Cizikas is today.
On top of that, the Islanders have pending unrestricted free agents Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo who are massive contributors to the team. It looks like at least one of those two players could be gone by July 1. Throwing an extra couple of million at your fourth-line center makes getting deals done with players that are actually core contributors to get done.
There's no question that Cizikas brings an element the Islanders feel strongly that they need. The physical side of the game has some value still and there are some defensive elements in his game that are adequate. Additionally, it's hard to get all flustered about his poor possession numbers considering the role he plays.
All of that said, and with all due respect to Cizikas, you can find players that do what he does for much cheaper than $3.5 million. You can't do that with players like Nielsen or Okposo. If they end up losing one of either of those players, or both, it's going to take some aggressiveness on the free agent market to adequately replace them and it's going to be pricey anyway.
It will be interesting to see where the Islanders go from here.