Welcome to a new edition of the THN Hot Seat, a continuing series of THN.com columns where we nominate a member of every NHL organization who’ll be facing a ton of pressure in this coming season. The Hot Seat “honoree” could be either an NHL player, head coach, GM, or team owner. In today’s file, we’re examining the New York Islanders.
ISLANDERS HOT SEAT: LOU LAMORIELLO, GENERAL MANAGER
WHY: Okay, first thing’s first: if there’s any GM in the league who won’t be sweating being on this list, it’s Lou Lamoriello. He’s as cold-blooded a hockey executive as there is, and he’ll be approaching the 2022-23 season the same way he did when the Islanders hired him in May of 2018: striving to make the playoffs right away, and not caring whose toes he has to step on to get there.
You can ask former Isles coach Barry Trotz what happens when the Isles fail to make the playoffs; it didn’t matter that the Islanders were waylaid by the COVID-19 virus and other injuries last year. Trotz’s Stanley Cup championship pedigree didn’t save him from the chopping block, and now longtime assistant Lane Lambert is running things behind their bench. There is some degree of continuity there, but the problem may be there’s too much continuity in the on-ice lineup to get them back into the post-season.
It’s been said before in this space, but it bears repeating: NHL teams don’t have to make moves just for the sake of making moves, but virtually all of the Islanders’ Metropolitan Division rivals, including the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, and New Jersey Devils have bolstered their rosters – and those that haven’t, including the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, had playoff-caliber rosters before the off-season began. If it weren’t for the Philadelphia Flyers, you could see the Isles finishing dead last in the Metro.
If that happens, Islanders ownership could very well look at Lamoriello’s lack of action this off-season – the only move he’s made thus far is acquiring young defenseman Alexander Romanov from Montreal – and wonder why Lamoriello did not do more. It’s true there’s still time to make a change, and the Isles have $3.485-million in salary cap space after signing their restricted free agents, but once star center Nazem Kadri came off the unrestricted free agent market and signed with the Calgary Flames last week, there aren’t many, if any needle-movers available.
There’s a possibility Lamoriello is being patient and waiting until the beginning of the season before making any trades, but who does he have to give up? Does it make sense to deal away draft picks and prospects – especially when their prospect pool is arguably the shallowest in the league – to effect a short-term boost? You can see the conundrum here, can’t you? And what does it say when veteran Zach Parise – now 38 years old and on a minimum-NHL-salary contract – projects as your team’s second-line winger? No offense to Parise, but if you put him on just about any other team not named the Arizona Coyotes or Chicago Blackhawks, he’d be a third-liner, and even that would be a stretch.
Lamoriello is a legend and has earned the respect he carries today, but all legends eventually see the game pass them by. We’re not suggesting that’s happened to Lamoriello this summer, but he’s 79 years old now, and the demands of the GM role only have gotten heavier. Another season of disappointment and underachieving could spell the end for him on Long Island. After all his success, and all the firings he’s made over the years, Lamoriello has to know how abrupt the end can be.