Kyle Okposo is leading the Islanders in points (42) and is third on the team in goals (15), but there’s a realistic chance he’ll be in a different uniform by next season.
Okposo is in the final year of a 5-year, $14 million contract that carries an annual salary cap hit of $2.8 million. The Islanders will have an estimated $18 million available in salary cap space this offseason (per The Hockey News’ projections, and assuming GM Garth Snow is allowed to spend to the ceiling), but Okposo isn’t the only Islander coming off the books.
Frans Neilsen is also due for a raise after playing through a team-friendly 4-year, $11 million pact, and RFAs Casey Cizikas, Ryan Strome and Scott Mayfield will more than likely command a higher combined salary than their present $4.5 million.
Blueliner Travis Hamonic, who filled in admirably while Johnny Boychuk missed time this season, will also be looking for a new deal this summer.
This puts the Isles, who are in the thick of the postseason race, in a precarious situation. And so far they’ve been sitting on their hands.
By Okposo’s own admission there’s been “no dialogue” regarding a contract extension, and there have been no substantial rumors tying Okposo to any other NHL club. But the 27-year-old power forward is apparently at peace with the situation.
“Anybody that tells you that they don’t think about it at all is lying,” Okposo told ESPN earlier this season. “[But] I’m fine with just going out there and playing and trying to do everything I can to help this team. I think we have enough here to be there in June and to be the best team in the league. That’s definitely my main focus.”
Isles captain John Tavares recently gave his linemate a ringing endorsement, which will make it harder for Garth Snow to let Okposo go.
“He’s a big leader for our team, someone I really rely on, really lean on to help me not just on the ice but off it,” Tavares told ESPN, “It’s a lot more than just putting up numbers…how he works, how he’s setting an example…that goes a long way, especially for a guy that’s been through all the ups and downs here.”
The potential haul for Okposo could be large should the Islanders decide to trade him; the Blackhawks surrendered a first round pick and a prospect to the Coyotes for Antoine Vermette at last year’s deadline. And the Devils garnered a second and third round pick from the Panthers for Jaromir Jagr. Okposo is worth at least that much if not more to a contending team, regardless of his impending free agency. It’s a lot to risk should Okposo decide to sign elsewhere this summer.
The Islanders have prospects like Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal ready to fill in should Okposo depart, but that kind of move will trigger thoughts of “same old Islanders.” And with attendance already flagging at the Barclays Center, the Islanders can’t afford that negative publicity.