The New York Islanders approach the post-Tavares era with an optimistic outlook for a speedy transition through the next generation.
As the first week closes on the free-agent frenzy, John Tavares’ signing has done a lot more than just set the market value for the summer of 2018.
The New York Islanders are a new team, one that may have suffered some immediate setbacks, but have sky high hopes for their future. The beacon of new leadership now starts with the message sent to newly-appointed head coach Barry Trotz, by his players. Trotz told SNY:
“I’ve talked to all the players about what I expect. We’re making some good headway,” Trotz said. “What’s been a blessing, was when John made his decision, the players texted me saying we’re going to be just fine. That’s a huge step for any organization going forward.”
This is an Islander team which, at the most crucial step in their history, must rise to the occasion and collectively pool their energy into one voice of leadership for the locker room.
Arthur Staple of The Athletic, in exchanging texts with a few players, mentioned the Tavares jersey-burning videos that have been floating around twitter with one player.
“Don’t blame them” was his response.
In his departure to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lamoriello’s formal statement to Tavares was that he had achieved “great individual success” as a player. Like most breakups, it was long, arduous, and both sides took their parting shots, highlighted by Tavares referring to Barzal as “that kid who won the Calder Trophy.”
At the end of the day, it was a business decision and the Islanders can and will move on. It’s not hard to blame the Islanders fans embracing the chicken little mindset, but keep in mind that the kid who won the Calder Trophy scored 85 points this past season, one point more than the Leafs new 2C, and did so before he was legally allowed to drink in the U.S.
“The one thing I’ve always said, and I’ve said it repeatedly, individual players win games but teams with championships.”
Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, the Islanders obviously take a hit in losing their first-line center for the last nine seasons. The Islanders take an inevitable hit short-term, but the big picture bodes well for the Islanders.
For the Islanders fans teetering on the edge, take a look at the roster. Anders Lee is a 40-goal scorer. Josh Bailey potted two-consecutive career seasons, ending with 71 points last season. The best fourth-line in hockey is back. Jordan Eberle had a prompt return to form last season.
That being said, it’s no mystery that the Islanders issues last season all pointed to a shoddy defense. The loss of Calvin de Haan to the Carolina Hurricanes doesn’t help matters at all in that regard.
However, it is only July 8, and if the belief is that Lamoriello is done for the offseason given this past season’s defensive results, then think again. Moreover, while the Islanders defense was an all-around mess last season, there are two factors to consider.
Firstly, under former head coach Jack Capuano, the defense was significantly better and it was largely the same core. In 2015-16, the Islanders finished 13 overall in goals-against. While that core included the aforementioned de Haan and Travis Hamonic.
It’s not far-fetched to believe that Trotz can turn things around in a jiffy. After all, he is the man who taught Alex Ovechkin how to back-check after nearly 10 years in the NHL.
There are plenty of reasons up and down the lineup to be excited about next season, and imagine the current crop of Isles rookies seeing ice-time for Trotz’s Islanders.
Josh Ho-Sang is due for a breakout season, Kieffer Bellows is looking to crack the opening night roster, and while it’s unlikely either are promoted this season, Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson were the steals of the 2018 draft and will look to do everything they can to be on the roster this October.
So yes, as of today there is no immediate replacement for either de Haan or Toronto’s second-line center, but it’s July 8. Lamoriello has all offseason to finally bring Matt Duchene to Long Island and find someone to take de Haan’s spot.
This approach for 2018-19 will be a rebuilding season, just not on the ice. The culture change that Lamoriello and Trotz have been preaching takes effect immediately, and the preparation starts now.