Cizikas’ “Die an Islander” quote another example of how far Islanders have come

“I’m going to die an Islander, that’s how you can put it.”

Those were the words of Casey Cizikas yesterday as he spoke to the media following the announcement of his new six-year contract with the Islanders.

Wednesday was a big day for the Isles and g.m. Lou Lamoriello with Cizikas being among four players the team announced new contracts for. The others were forwards Anthony Beauvillier, Kyle Palmieri and goalie Ilya Sorokin. Zach Parise also confirmed he was signed, but that his contract had not been filed.

All four players’ deals had been rumored to have been done for weeks despite how quiet the offseason has been for the organization. It’s been no secret that Lamoriello and his cohorts did everything in their power to not show their hand as this summer progressed especially with the tumultuous cap situation the Isles were dealing with. Now that everything is official, many can take a deep breath.

Each deal completed two objectives that Lamoriello had to this summer: 1. Keep most of the band together that has gone to the third round in consecutive years. 2. Add players to a core that has Stanley Cup aspirations.

“We have a lot of unfinished business,” said Cizikas. “We know we have more, we know we can go further and ultimately we want to do this with the same group. It’s not always easy keeping everybody, but Lou did a really good job of bringing back as many of us as possible.”

That first statement from the Cizikas though, “die an Islander”, was what really stuck out the most from all the days’ festivities. It made the rounds on social media quickly and immediately made its way onto a t-shirt (shocking right?). But truthfully, those aren’t the kind of things people are used to hearing when talking about the Isles. Except now they should.

Rarely do you hear such a remark from players, especially with the kind of turnover that happens in the NHL year after year. But it just proves again how far the Islanders have come and how much chemistry and family have become the sole priority when it comes to the franchise.

In years past, there were guys who said “I’d rather die than play for the Islanders” (that’s a true statement by the way). Now you have a guy saying the the exact opposite, that he wouldn’t want to play or be in any other situation. And sure the Islanders have been all Cizikas has ever known since he was drafted by the organization back in 2009, but saying what he said translates beyond him being a part of the team.

Players don’t just want to come here, they want to stay here. People outside of mostly Islander fans don’t understand the magnitude in how much that one small element means. Cizikas, as reported, could have taken more money to go elsewhere. He didn’t. He had his choice of suitors. He decided to stay on Long Island. Cizikas sees how special a team the Islanders are and everything that comes with it.

The fourth-line center and heart and soul of the club is going to retire in blue and orange. Matter of fact, Cizikas is going to die for his teammates, the fans, the crest on the jersey.

That’s why the Isles are different now. Because of what Cizikas said and the mentality that comes with representing this franchise.

Possibly replacing Casey Cizikas will be a difficult task for the Islanders

The offseason for the Islanders is going to be a tough one no matter what. Add in having the possibility of having to replace Casey Cizikas, and it feels ten times harder.

You would think replacing a fourth-line center in today’s NHL would be considered one of the easiest things for a general manager. But, a lot of them aren’t Cizikas. And a lot of them aren’t nearly as valuable to the Islanders as he is.

“There’s no question what Casey Cizikas has brought to the team. We will do everything we possibly can to try and have him come back,” Lamoriello said last week. “Certainly, his set of circumstances is unique and also maybe positive because he’s a UFA (unrestricted free agent) and we do not have to make any decisions with (respect to the expansion draft). We will continue to talk with him.”

For a decade now, the 30-year-old Cizikas has evolved into one of the most important pieces the organization has had in the post-dynasty era. He’s been an instrumental part of the team’s success as one-third of the Isles’ “Identity Line”, along with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, but that run could be coming to an end.

Cizikas is set to hit the open market on July 28th, meaning there’s a chance he could be playing in another sweater for next season. It’s the second time the forward has a chance to cash in. The first came in 2016 after he had just come off a career-high 29 points and concluded a two-year bridge deal which was paying him only $1M AAV.

Back then, former g.m. Garth Snow felt that Cizikas was a critical part of the team’s future and awarded him with a five-year deal worth $16.75M. Many people thought then that deal was ludicrous, especially for a fourth-liner. Looking at it now, it turned out to be one of the best contracts the Islanders handed out.

The Islanders have said they will do everything they can to avoid Cizikas moving on. But if he does depart, trying to replicate Cizikas’ presence won’t come easy for Islanders’ g.m. Lou Lamoriello.

The Islanders are a sum of all their parts and their success derives from when their players all play to their specific roles. Cizikas is without question one of the larger ones. During his tenure, “Zeeker” has become everything for the Isles. He has widely been considered the team’s hardest-working player, as there doesn’t seem to be anything he’s not capable of doing.

You want a guy to forecheck? Throw the body? Block shots? Penalty kill? It’s Cizikas.

There aren’t many guys who are a “throwback” as Barry Trotz likes to say, but he describes Cizikas as one of them. The veteran center doesn’t have a letter on his jersey, which is still somewhat surprising based on his play and his undersold leadership. There are definitely clubs that could use both those elements. The Maple Leafs, Rangers, maybe even the Penguins all come to mind.

But from an Islander perspective, things get tricky to fill Cizikas’ spot. They can try to bring back Travis Zajac on the cheap for another year after dealing for him at this year’s deadline. Zajac is notorious for doing a lot of the things Cizikas does (faceoffs, penalty kill). Problem is he is 36 years of age. Sooner or later the Islanders have to get younger and still be able to field a championship-caliber squad. Now that youth injection could be come from Otto Koivula.

The 22-year-old has played a few games with the big club the past few seasons but hasn’t been able to secure a regular role. Koivula is a center and does have size — he stands at 6’5, 223 pounds — but is he ready to play the demanding, physical style that Cizikas does and that Trotz employs?

Beyond them, it’s hard to see a Cole Bardreau or Felix Bibeau making the leap to starter.

Because of the Isles’ cap situation is such a tight squeeze, going the free agent route might be hard to navigate as well. The list of possible names in this year’s class might ask for more than Lamoriello is willing to pay. Also something to take of note, Lamoriello goes for players he feel would fit both the Isles’ style of play and their locker room.

“I think I know where his heart is and I think the team would love to have him back as well,” Martin said of Cizikas during the team’s exit interviews. “These things get tricky. There’s a salary cap, a bunch of things going on… at the end of the day, I hope we have another opportunity with this group of guys.”

The Isles can take a thing or two from Martin when it comes to the Cizikas situation. When Martin left for Toronto in free agency five years ago, they felt his absence in several ways the following season, physically and from a character standpoint. Does the name Jason Chimera ring a bell? He was brought in to replace Martin and it failed miserably. The Isles ended up missing the postseason for the first time in two years. So, if there’s anything to be taken from that situation, the Islanders this will hopefully not make the same mistake this time around.

The situation with Cizikas has its own uniqueness to it.

Who he is and what he brings to the table won’t be easy to substitute in any fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Islanders’ fourth line coming out of it slumber at the perfect time

It shouldn’t come as a coincidence that this little resurgence the Islanders now have had their last four games have come with their fourth line re-discovering their game.

The threesome of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck was the catalyst behind the team’s comeback win on Saturday against the Penguins, and were the same last night in the Isles’ crucial 2-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The victory made it points in four straight games (2-0-2) for the Isles and launched them back into a playoff spot following a tough five-game skid that left them in last place in the East Division at the end of last week.

I felt it was going to be one of the grinding lines that was going to get a goal,” head coach Barry Trotz said to the media after the game last night. “[The Identity Line] had as complete of a game as they’ve had in a while.”

The “Identity Line” coming through in the clutch isn’t something new for the Islanders; they’ve been the best bottom-six line in hockey for a number of years now and were excellent in the playoffs last summer. But the trio’s slow start to this season, along with the Isles’ offensive struggles as a whole, had people questioning whether it was time to finally break them up. That possibility feels like it’s once again off the table as it looks as if all three guys have finally come out of their slumber. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Over the past two games, Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck have combined for seven points. In the physical department they look rejuvenated after the mini-break from last week, allotting for 18 hits.

“The way we’re playing and gelling right now, it’s a good feeling and something that we can build off of and get better at each game,” Cizikas said in the postgame.

When the fourth line is going for the Islanders, it instantly makes them a tougher matchup for the opposition. The Rangers young defense saw that first hand last night on the two goals in a 2:05 span that sealed the Isles the win. And although it’s just two games, there has been a clear difference in the Islanders overall play, especially from an offensive standpoint. They’re being more aggressive and have gotten back to what has made them successful.

They can thank the fourth line finally waking up for attributing to that shift.

With 45 games left this season and that line’s future up in the air — the expansion draft, Cizikas being an unrestricted free agent — the Isles are going to need to get anything and everything from them.

That’s been the case of late and the Islanders have been the beneficiaries of it.

If you think Semyon Varlamov is the only one who loves to play the Rangers, you’d be sadly mistaken. Mathew Barzal has shown over his career he loves to shine brightly against the Blueshirts.

He didn’t have the most productive game last night, but Barzal did notch his 20th point in 15 games against the boys from Broadway last night with a secondary assist on Matt Martin’s third period goal.

The assist also extended his point streak to six games and gave him his team-leading 12th point.

Michael Dal Colle and Oliver Wahlstrom had strong games again despite not finding the scoresheet. Both were battling hard for pucks and making smart plays.

Wahlstrom, who had probably his best game as a pro, tied with Casey Cizikas for the most shots for the Islanders with four.

This coming season could mark the last ride for the Islanders’ Identity Line

New York Islanders

The offseason for the New York Islanders has gone quiet recently. Their last big transaction came a few weeks ago when the team shipped d-man Devon Toews to Colorado.

Soon though, things should pick up again, including the announced signings of free agents Cory Schneider, Andy Greene and Matt Martin.

The latter of those three signees has bigger implications.

Whether it’s a one or two-year deal for Martin, it seems like the end is near for the Islanders’ fourth line, formally known as the “Identity Line”.

As The Athletic’s Arthur Staple pointed out in the first of his three Isles mailbags this week, Casey Cizikas has probably priced himself out for the organization to retain him when he hits the market next season. That in part because of the flat cap and Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier and Ilya Sorokin all needing new deals.

Furthermore is Cal Clutterbuck will have one year left on five-year, $17M deal he signed back in 2016 and will certainly be one of the forwards exposed in the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken who begin play following this season. Martin will also likely be along with Clutterbuck in that group when he is signed.

The Islanders have been fortunate enough to have a threesome of Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck four out of the previous six seasons outside the former’s two-year stint in Toronto from 2016-2018. No one could have foreseen what those three would mean to the franchise when they were first assembled in 2014 by then head coach Jack Capuano.

They became the embodiment of what it meant to wear the Islander crest and also earned the reputation as the league’s most formidable fourth line, which is a title they still hold in many people’s eyes. They’ve even been called the best to ever do it, according to legendary analyst Don Cherry.

Cherry dubbed them “The Best Fourth Line Ever in Hockey” in 2015.

Under head coach Barry Trotz, the line was reborn and is one of the major reasons for the success the Isles have sustained the past two seasons.

We always talk about them as the fourth line, but they are a very useful line for us,” Trotz told the team website a while back. “They give you impact.”

That impact was no more evident than this past postseason. Martin had five goals in 22 games, marking more than he had in the regular season. Cizikas — who suffered an eye injury in the Conference finals versus Tampa — and Clutterbuck played hurt and had clutch moments throughout the team’s run.

“When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want. They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity. If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

All good things must come to an end though.

This one might hurt a little extra because of how much Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck are respected in the room and how much they make up the very fabric of the team.

The good thing to keep in mind is that the Isles have reinforcements ready to jump in and fill the void that could be left if this is it for the threesome. Otto Koivula and Ross Johnston have been waiting in the wings and could be the ones who do receive the nod.

This coming season will be interesting enough in a number of ways. Late start date, possibly no fans, travel restrictions, and who knows what else.

But for the Islanders, it will be interesting because it could mark the end of one of the most beloved era in recent memory.

The Identity Line.

New York Islanders: Is Casey Cizikas a cap casualty?

New York Islanders, Casey Cizikas

Casey Cizikas has been a New York Islander for over nine years now. Cizikas has been a fan favorite since the day he started because of his hard-hitting, brash style. Cizikas has made the MC^2 line one of the best in Hockey. But, now his spot is in danger due to Garth Snow’s terrible contract making decisions.

It’s crazy to think that Andrew Ladd may be the reason a true Islander has to leave the Island. Does any Islander fan want to see this? Definitely not, but that isn’t a choice, Cizikas’ spot is in danger.

Cap Issues

The Islanders have even less cap space to spend next year, but have the same amount of key players to resign. Adam Pelech and Anthony Beauvillier are obviously the priority in the 2021 offseason. Where does that put Cizikas? It puts him in the Devon Toews boat. The 3rd key guy, the Isles, must re-sign, but there’s no money to re-sign him. The Islanders must do everything in their power to move cap space in order to keep Cizikas. Andrew Ladd to Seattle and Johnny Boychuk to Ottawa.

The problem is, this isn’t NHL 21, you can’t just move players because you want them gone.

Injuries

Don’t get me wrong, I love Casey Cizikas as a player, but he does get hurt way too often. Cizikas has never once played a full 82 game season. It’s awesome having a great 4th line center, but it doesn’t mean much if he can’t get on the ice every night.

There are other younger guys like Mason Jobst and Otto Koviula who are ready to take a spot. I wouldn’t be surprised that if Cizikas got hurt this year, and one of the younger guys does well, that Cizikas gets traded. No Islander fan wants to see that happen, but the NHL is a business. Players come and go all the time.

The Islanders’ fourth line continues to live up to its name despite another loss

There’s a reason the New York Islanders are known for having the “best fourth line in hockey”.

They simply cause havoc and can change the dynamic of a game.

It was evident once again last night in the team’s crushing 2-1 loss in game two to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Needing a big-time start, following just an embarrassing effort in game one Monday night, Islanders’ head coach Barry Trotz deployed the Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck (a game-time decision) trio early in the game. And what did they do, they came through as advertised.

Martin, who had just five goals the entire regular season, got the Islanders an early lead when he chipped one over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shoulder off a great feed from Nick Leddy.

That goal marked Martin’s fifth goal of the postseason.

From there, that entire line was off and running. They were the Islanders’ best line by a mile last night. That trio combined for five shots, 18 hits, and one fight when Martin dropped the gloves with Bolts d-man Luke Schenn.

What we witnessed from that trio in the loss shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone whose been around the Islanders for a long time now.  Ever since that “Identity Line” as Trotz likes to refer to them as first became a thing, they’ve been one of the more prominent threesomes people identify the Isles with. They’ve been lauded for how cohesive a unit they are and because they play the game how it’s supposed to be played — hard-nosed, physical, balls-to-the-wall.

In this postseason run, the threesome has continued to live up to that billing. Whenever the Isles have needed a big moment, it’s been those guys who have stepped up. Martin — as previously mentioned — has scored huge goals; so has Clutterbuck. Cizikas, despite not scoring, has made his impact on games with his relentless motor and hows he’s thrown his body around.

“We always talk about them as the fourth line, but they are a very useful line for us,” Trotz has said about the trio in the past. “They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want. They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity,” If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

The fourth line is the engine which makes the Islanders go. Before the bubble, the team struggled mightily at times during the regular season as a result of the line not being totally together. A part of that had to do with Cizikas, Martin and Clutterbuck being sidelined at various times of the year.

Now that they are healthy though, you see why have earned their reputation from around the league. And the Isles are going to need them to keep going pedal to the metal if they want to get back in this series.

After last night, they are now down 2-0. Game three is tomorrow night, and the hope is they can come away with a victory and make this a brand new series. One way they can do that is the fourth line just doing exactly what they did last night and all postseason.

Being the best and making the opponent’s lives miserable.

New York Islanders: Should Ross Johnston Play in Game 2?

ross johnston, New York Islanders

The identity of the New York Islanders is a tough, physical, defensive team. Who’s the first player that comes to your mind that’s on the Islanders who’s tough, physical, and defensive? Most people would say Cal Clutterbuck, or Casey Cizikas, possibly even Matt Martin.

Then there are the few people who say, Ross Johnston. Ross Johnston is a goon. He’s the enforcer, the head hunter, the brawler. This series vs. the Capitals is a brawler series. I mean, the Capitals have Tom Wilson, Radko Gudas, and Garnet Hathaway.

Many fans are calling for Ross Johnston to come in and replace Leo Komarov on the 3rd line so that the Islanders can fire back. Is this a smart move for the Islanders, though?

Why Ross Johnston Shouldn’t Start

As previously stated, Ross Johnston is a goon. You cannot go into playoff hockey with undisciplined players. Islanders fans saw their team take seven penalties in game one alone. The Islanders have a bad penalty kill, and the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin. Why risk losing a game because you want your goon to hurt Tom Wilson.

The playoffs are for teams who can win the Stanley Cup, not for teams who would rather fight other players. Also, what else does Johnston offer for this team? Leo Komarov at least can play on the penalty kill. Tom Kuhnhackl is great on the forecheck. Andrew Ladd offers veteran leadership and a winning mentality. Michael Dal Colle exists, I guess. Johnston just delivers hits. There’s no reason for Johnston to play unless he can show that he can bring more to this team, such as forechecking or good skating.

Conclusion

I don’t believe there’s a reason for Johnston to play for the rest of the playoffs. The Islanders are here to win the cup, not to injure other players.

New York Islanders: 3 Key Players to Yesterday’s Win

Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders beat the Florida Panthers yesterday with a score of 4-2 and take a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series. This is a monumental win for the Islanders teams are 55-1 when leading 2-0 in a best of 5 series. Three key players helped the Islanders put extreme pressure on the Panthers.

Jordan Eberle

If you score two goals in one game, there’s a 95% chance you’re a top 3 star in the game. Jordan Eberle, who was invisible in game 1, showed up in the ladder half of game 2. Eberle’s first goal was an absolute beauty. First, he waited on his forehand and moved the defenseman. This move also moved Sergei Bobvrosky right out of his net, and Eberle being the goal scorer he is, rips it short side to put the Isles up 3-2. Eberle’s second goal was nothing special, just in the right place at the right time. The Islanders need playoff Eberle to shine if they want to make a deep run.

Ryan Pulock

Ryan Pulock possesses the hardest slapshot in the NHL. Let me reiterate, Ryan Pulock possesses the hardest slapshot in the NHL. I’ve seen Pulock injury goalies after he shoots from 50 feet away. Pulock has a powerful slapshot, but he doesn’t have the accuracy to score often. Despite this, Islanders fans beg Pulock to take the slapshot on the powerplay. This time, Pulock listened to the fans, and the shot went five-hole. Other than the goal, Pulock played solid defense the entire game. Never giving up position, and always filling his lanes.

The 4th Line

Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin make up the best 4th line in the league. This line never tries to get too fancy. They chip and chase, hit whenever they can, and keep a good forecheck/neutral zone presence. When the 4th line is playing well, the Islanders normally win. The Islanders have a way of making a two-goal lead seem like a seven-goal lead, and it starts with this line. Amazing forechecking all game, and Matty Martin scored today as well.

Honorable Mention

Tom Kuhnhackl played another great game today. Amazing forechecking, good defensive presence, hard checking, and great awareness. He even had the pass of the game, through the legs into a Matty Martin goal.

Conclusion

The Islanders play game three tomorrow at noon. This could either be the sweep the fans are clamoring for, or, the first win for the Panthers. Head coach Barry Trotz will give his players two options. You can either end the series now or let the Panthers climb back into it.