In the midst of their best stretch of hockey this season, the Islanders rewarded gritty veteran winger Cal Clutterbuck with a five-year extension. The 29-year old who was acquired from the Wild in exchange for former first round pick Nino Niederreiter could’ve become an unrestricted free agent after ’15-16. Instead, he agreed to remain an Islander with an average cap hit of $3.5 million over the next five years.
Clutterbuck currently is a $2.75 million cap hit in the final season of his current contract. He earns $3.5 million ironically. The new deal is front loaded. He’ll be paid $5 million in Year 1 and $4 million in Year 2. The salary will drop off to $3.5 million in Year 3, $2.5 million in Year 4 and the same in Year 5.
A solid character team oriented player who always is among the league leaders in hits, Clutterbuck leads the Islanders with 89 this season. The 89 hits currently rank fifth in the NHL. His goal production is down. After posting 15 last year on one of the league’s best fourth lines, he has only two in 25 contests along with seven assists and 10 penalty minutes.
It’s been a little different for Clutterbuck and center Casey Cizikas, who are without Matt Martin who signed with the Maple Leafs. Interestingly, Martin signed for a similar amount receiving $10 million over four years. His cap hit is $2.5 million. A million less than Clutteruck, who’s a bit better. Considering the chemistry the trio had, maybe Islander GM Garth Snow should’ve kept him. Replacement Jason Chimera has been fine scoring four goals and five assists while making $2.25 million over this year and ’17-18.
As for giving a fourth liner who plays penalty kill and power play when called upon five years, that seems like a stretch. Clutterbuck will be in his mid-30’s by the time the contract ends. His physical style could wear down.He’s only 5-11 but weighs 218.
There’s nothing wrong with rewarding a hardworking grinding player who will accept any role under coach Jack Capuano. But you do have to wonder why Snow was willing to go five years while he never came close for leading scorer John Tavares’ sidekick Kyle Okposo. He let Okposo go to Buffalo for seven years, $42 million while signing Andrew Ladd for the same seven years but at $38.5 million. Ladd has been a bust so far with six points (3-3-6) while Okposo has been as advertised with 17 points (8-9-17) leading the Sabres in scoring.
One wonders if the Islanders would’ve struggled as much had Snow kept Okposo or retained Frans Nielsen, who is with Detroit. Lately, the Isles have gotten more scoring from key third-year forward Anders Lee. He tallied twice in Thursday night’s big win over the Blues. A game in which Tavares scored a highlight reel goal that’ll be replayed a lot.
Capuano has settled on Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey to play with Tavares. Both former centers have fit in. Nelson is second in scoring with 17 points (6-11-17) while Bailey ranks third with 16 (4-12-16).
If there is a difference with this year’s team, it’s the scoring they’re getting from the blue line. Thus far, eight Islander defensemen have combined to score 19 goals. Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Dennis Seidenberg all have four.
They can still use more production from the other forwards. Cizikas has done his part with 3-8-11. Shane Prince has nine points as does Chimera and Clutterbuck. Rookie Anthony Beauvillier is 2-5-7 in 19 games. Nikolay Kulemin has played mostly with Cizikas but has contributed only two goals and three helpers. This is a player who earns over $4 million and is signed thru 2018. Figure him to be left unprotected for the expansion draft next summer.
At the moment, the Islanders have recovered from a poor start by winning five of six. They’ve recorded points in all six including an overtime loss to the Red Wings. In beating the Pens, Caps, Rangers and Blues during a 5-0-1 stretch, they’ve proven they can compete with some of the league’s best. As Capuano said, it’s all about working hard and showing resiliency. Something they didn’t do the first two months.
With the Islanders at 11-10-5 with 27 points in 26 games, they still have some work ahead of them. They remain 10 points behind first place Pittsburgh and second place New York while ranking last in the Metropolitan Division. A point behind Carolina for seventh.With six teams already up to 30 points or better, the Isles must continue to push.
They’ll get tested at stingy Columbus on Saturday. We’ll see if they can keep it going.