Cizikas deal is Isles’ opening summer salvo
Fourth-Line Center Gets Reported $16.75 Million Five-Year Pact
The Stanley Cup will be in Pittsburgh Thursday night, where the Penguins will try to make it their own for the fourth time, and the San Jose Sharks will try to extend the Final series to a sixth game in the hopes of ultimately capturing their first.
Back here in Brooklyn, Islanders general manager Garth Snow is busy trying to put our borough’s NHL franchise in position to lift Lord Stanley’s coveted Cup next season.
Snow kicked off what should be a very interesting summer by signing fourth-line center Casey Cizikas to a five-year deal reportedly worth $16.75 million last week.
With a projected cap hit of just over $3.5 million in 2016-17, Snow has made a rather large investment in a player that logged less than 13 minutes per game on the ice last season as New York finally won a playoff series for the first time since 1993.
At 25, Cizikas, who amassed a career-best 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) while playing alongside fellow fourth-line mates Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin last year, figures to be a fixture in the Islanders’ future plans.
“I’m thrilled to remain a New York Islander for the next five years,” Cizikas said. “The organization has been first class ever since I was drafted and we’ve come so far as a team during my time here. I’m excited to continue to be a part of this group as we build towards the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.”
The Toronto native played in 80 of 82 games during the team’s debut season in Brooklyn, and added three points while competing in all 11 playoff games before the Isles were ousted by Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Casey has developed into a highly dependable two-way center and we’re pleased to sign him through 2021,” Snow said. “His energy and passion both on the ice and in the community make him an invaluable piece of our lineup.”
Invaluable enough to bring him back at a raise of more than $2 million per season?
That will be the question posed to Snow if New York is unable to ink the two biggest unrestricted free agents on their roster this summer.
Come July 1, both Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, who ranked second and third, respectively, in scoring during both the regular season and playoffs for the Isles, will be eligible to sign with the highest bidder.
Okposo, arguably second only to team captain and two-time Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares in terms of value on the Isles’ roster, had 22 goals and 42 assists during Season One at Barclays Center.
The 28-year-old right winger just completed the five-year, $14 million deal he signed back in 2011.
Snow will doubtlessly have to ante up if he is to keep Okposo on the Downtown scene, otherwise he will have to find a player of equal, if not greater, worth on the open market next month.
Nielsen, 32, potted 20 goals and added 52 assists in 2015-16. Known for his penchant for scoring in shootout situations, the Denmark native has been with the Isles since being selected in the third round of 2002 NHL Draft.
Martin is also eligible for free agency come July 1, and Snow is likely to wait to see what the market bears for the 27-year-old winger, who finished with a career-high 10 goals to go with nine assists last season.
All three players have been key contributors to the Isles’ recent emergence as a playoff team in three of the past four seasons.
And each has expressed a desire to remain right here in Brooklyn, if, of course, Snow comes up with the lucre.
“I’m proud of what’s happened over the last 10 years since I’ve been a member of this organization,” Okposo said while cleaning out his locker at Barclays last month.
“I might be continuing that,” he added. “But I’m proud of the way the guys are and everything I feel I’ve had a hand in building here, the culture and just way things are around here.”
Fortunately for Snow, he will no longer have to worry about moving his top defenseman.
Travis Hamonic, who had one skate out of Brooklyn virtually the entire season based on a trade request made for “personal family reasons,” has since told Snow that he fully intends to remain with the squad going forward.
With the NHL Draft just a couple of weeks away up in Buffalo, N.Y., Snow will have to start figuring out who will be back and whom he will let go this free-agent season.
For the Islanders, and their continuing quest to raise a fifth Stanley Cup banner and first here in Brooklyn, this offseason may prove to be their most important season of all.
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