Lou Lamoriello has taken a curious — and potentially rewarding — approach to the New York Islanders’ offseason.
John Tavares left for Toronto on Sunday, creating a major void at the forward position. Curiously, Lou Lamoriello has spent the days since acquiring … a bunch of fourth-liners?
Yeah, that’s right.
That isn’t all. The team was already paying Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5m), Casey Cizikas ($3.35m) and Ross Johnston (RFA), so this fourth line will be one of the most crowded — and expensive — units in all of hockey.
Fourth line skaters typically play fewer minutes and score less goals than other forwards. So it’s a little strange, then, that the Islanders have spent so much money on these players.
But is it really?
Lamoriello was hired to run hockey operations for the Islanders on May 22, to the delight of the fanbase. But if you looked carefully at his résumé and track record, you would see a long history of prioritizing grit and toughness — sometimes even over skill and speed.
Lamoriello, speaking on NHL Network Thursday morning, said, “The one thing I’ve always said, and I’ve said it repeatedly, is that individual players win games but teams win championships.”
He pointed to the Vegas Golden Knights as a prime example. He also spoke about the current Islanders squad — more talented than the one he inherited in Toronto, but lacking the grit and toughness to really compete for a championship.
Lamoriello hopes that through acquiring Kühnhackl, Komarov, Martin and Filppula, the Islanders will be gritty and tough enough to really compete in the next year or two.
On the reunification of the Islanders’ old fourth line, Lamoriello said, “I think that line was the best fourth line in the NHL. Don’t think we can expect the same thing today, but they did have identity. Don’t know if they’ll be together, that’s Trotz’s decision.”
Lamoriello was trying to craft an identity with these signings. Every team has talented players; not every team has the requisite grit and toughness.
When the Islanders had Martin, Clutterbuck and Cizikas on their fourth line just a few years ago, they were able to come talent deficiencies and advance to the playoffs. Last season, despite one of the most impressive offenses in the league, the Isles lacked the mental toughness to overcome their struggles.
The Islanders lost Nikolai Kulemin to the Kontinental Hockey League this summer, so they’ve been looking to make up the lost special teams production. Kulemin, when healthy, was one of the team’s top penalty killers.
Still, the Islanders aren’t done making moves. Guys can be traded, depth can be added, superstars can be groomed. Lou Lamoriello’s master plan is just beginning. And it starts by adding grit and toughness.