This is the latest file in THN.com’s continuing analyses of the off-season of each of the NHL”s teams. In today’s file, we're breaking down the New York Islanders.
2021-22 Record: 27-46-9
Finish In The Metropolitan Division: 5th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $11.1 million
Restricted Free Agents: Kiefer Bellows, F; Noah Dobson, D; Alex Romanov, D
What The Islanders Have: A pair of in-their-prime defensemen in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, and a young, up-and-coming blueliner in Noah Dobson; a new D-man in former Canadiens puck-mover Alex Romanov; enough salary cap space to make an important addition either before the regular season begins, or during the 2022-23 campaign; solid, if unspectacular scoring depth in their first three forward lines; a new head coach in Lane Lambert; proven veteran scorers in center Matt Barzal, captain Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey
What The Islanders Need: More elite offensive talent up front, and more goals in general; a big year from Barzal; better luck health-wise; improvement on their 2-6 shootout record in 2021-22; a good start out of the gate; at least as good of a season from their goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, and Varlamov in particular.
What’s Realistic For The Islanders Next Season: No team had higher aspirations and a harder crater last season than the Isles had, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in terms of simple bad luck as well. Thirty-seven-year-old winger Zach Parise was the only Islanders regular skater who didn’t miss two or more games in 2021-22, and only three of their forwards finished the year with more than 18 goals-scored. Even with now-former-head-coach Barry Trotz’s trademark solid defense structure in place, the Isles simply couldn’t generate nearly enough offense as they needed to in order to earn a playoff spot in the highly-competitive Metropolitan Division.
That combination of misfortune on the health front, and sub-par scoring totals from their veterans and stars, might be behind GM Lou Lamoriello’s decision to stick with basically the same lineup to start the 2022-23 campaign, with the acquisition of former Montreal defenseman Alex Romanov being the only exception. And, as noted, Trotz was dismissed by Lamoriello and replaced with longtime assistant Lane Lambert, but you can expect them to maintain their strong defensive play and seek out more success with the puck.
Now, it’s true no team should make a move only for the sake of making a move, the reality is the Islanders are going to have skeptics they’ve done enough to keep pace in the Metro, especially with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils making notable additions to their rosters. The Isles are going to have to unseat one or both of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins to get back into the post-season, and that’s no small feat.
Lamoriello was in the hunt to sign star winger Johnny Gaudreau, but the former Calgary Flame chose the Blue Jackets, significantly improving that franchise’s chances at a playoff berth. He didn’t win, but he does have sufficient salary cap space to make a deal of note during the regular season. Would he take a chance on superstar Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, even as a strict rental who might be too pricey for them when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer? This writer says “yes”. Lamoriello has a very old group of forwards – only six of whom are in their twenties – and he needs big results immediately.
For a short span, the Islanders looked ready to be consistent challengers for the top spot in the Metro and the Stanley Cup. But circumstances can change very quickly, and the Isles now look to be in tough just to make the playoffs. Lamoriello and Lambert know they need to start the schedule strongly, and not be forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. As the Hockey Gods showed them in a painful way last season, that’s a game teams usually don’t end up winning.